& # 39; Kissing bugs & # 39; I am in Maryland, but I have little cause for concern

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A bug that can bring a serious parasite and was found in Delaware also has a presence in Maryland. But entomologists say it should not cause alarm among Maryland residents.

Triatomine insects – also known as "kissing bugs" – can carry the parasite that causes Chagas disease, a condition that can lead to serious cardiac and gastrointestinal complications. Last July, a girl was bitten by a kiss in Delaware, where the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Department of Delaware's Department of Agriculture identified a kiss last week, according to the news .

The insects, which are nicknamed for their propensity to bite near people's lips, also live in Maryland. But they do not pose a great threat to local residents.

"We're not worried about them," said Gaye Williams, an entomologist from the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "People should be more enthusiastic about deer and Lyme ticks [disease]".

Although insect worm bites can be painful and cause allergic reactions, the probability of contracting Chagas disease from a bite is low, according to the CDC.

Kissing insects generally live in the southern United States, as well as in Central and South America. There are 11 known species of worms that kiss in the United States, according to the CDC. Two of them were found in Maryland, Williams said.

The adult insects are black or dark brown with orange, yellow or red stripes that cover the perimeter of their abdomen and a checkerboard pattern on the back. Insects can get a little bigger than a penny.

Their appearance is more interesting than the disease they can potentially carry, Williams said.

"When I see one I get excited, but that would be me," he said.

Triatomini are nocturnal and feed on the blood of mammals (including humans), birds and reptiles. And that's when they can transmit the parasite that causes Chagas' disease to their guests. That parasite – Trypanosoma cruzi – lives in the intestines of insects. Parasites are most often transmitted to humans through kissing insect feces – particularly if a bug bug defecates near the site where its host has bitten.

About half of all the kissed insects carry the parasite, according to a research group from Texas A & M University that studies Chagas disease and kisses insects.

Chagas disease is characterized by two phases: acute and chronic. Both phases can be symptom-free or create life-threatening complications, says the CDC.

During the acute phase, mild symptoms may include fever, fatigue, pain, rash, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. Other symptoms may include swelling of the liver, spleen, glands, eyelids or the site of the bite, according to the CDC.

Symptoms are rarer during the chronic phase, says the CDC, but may include an enlarged heart, heart failure, abnormal heart rhythm and cardiac arrest. Gastrointestinal problems can include a swollen esophagus or colon, making it difficult to eat or poop.

smeehan@baltsun.com

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