CDC issues kissing bug warning, but experts say not to panic

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Love is in the air in Florida, but not in the traditional sense. It's the season for love bugs, known for flying in attached pairs.

Love bugs are relatively harmless, but there's another bug with a similarly cute nickname that can do real harm. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a warning about the so-called kissing bug, which is now present in Florida and all of the southern states. 

The nickname comes from where they bite: People’s faces.

"They have sensors on their antenna that are like heat-seeking missiles, that tells the bug it's at our softer tissue of our body, and it can drill in, and suck our blood from there," said Dr. Deby Cassill, a biology professor at USF St. Petersburg.


The CDC confirmed this type of bug bit a Delaware girl's face last July. Her home is near a wooded area, which Cassill says is the kissing bug's typical habitat.

“They tend to lay their eggs in damp wood, and damp soil,” Cassill said. “So if you have wood piles, make sure they're far away from the house."

The bloodsuckers can spread a parasite that can cause Chagas disease, which if left untreated, can cause heart failure.

Floyd Shockley, one of the Smithsonian’s experts in entomology says yes, the bugs carry the disease, but there’s good news for Americans.

“There's no case of a human being bitten within the US and contracting the disease in the US,” Shockley said.

You don't get infected through the bite. Shockley says it defecates on the wound, which becomes itchy.

"As a natural reaction you reach up to scratch it, and you smear the feces across the wound,” Shockley said. “That's how the parasite gets into you."

He says he doesn't want the public to panic.

"Not just every brownish black bug with orange stripes is going to be something to be concerned about,” he said.

And before you give the kissing bug the kiss of death, he says to check with an expert.

"There's lots of bugs that look very similar. You don't want to kill something just because it kind of looks like it. Always have it confirmed by an expert."