Watch list: Kissing bug that can carry Chagas disease found in Pottawatomie County

Tina Bridenstine
The Shawnee News-Star
This kissing bug was submitted to the OSU Extension Office by a Pottawatomie County resident.

Pottawatomie County has seen its first documented kissing bug specimen, according to a recent Facebook post from the Pottawatomie County OSU Extension Office.

“This insect can carry a tropical disease and is being tracked in many states, including Oklahoma and Texas,” the post said.

Carla Smith, horticulture educator with the Pottawatomie County office, said the bug is on a watch list.

“Not all of the insects will necessarily be a carrier, but it's something we need to monitor,” she said.

Smith said a client who lives in northeast Pottawatomie County in the North Rock Creek area found one of the bugs and recognized it from something he'd seen and took it into the extension office around the end of August.

“This is the first one our office has accepted as a sample and has dealt with,” she said.

The sample the area resident collected will be sent off for testing to see if it is a carrier for Chagas disease.

If anyone sees a bug they think might be a kissing bug, she said they can take it to the OSU Extension Center office at 14001 Acme Road in Shawnee, where campus entomologists can identify it and send it off for testing.

However, Smith urged caution and advised anyone who attempts to collect the insects to wear gloves and not touch them with bare hands, since it is through physical contact that the pathogen can be passed on.

Smith also advised that there are other insects in the area that look similar to a kissing bug.

Assassin bugs are one type of insect that can look similar to a kissing bug.

“Assassin bugs look similar, and are actually a beneficial insect,” she said. “Wheel bugs are also in that family.”

She added that she doesn't want people to panic, only for them to be aware.

According to an article on the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, Chagas disease (Trypanosoma cruzi) can be transmitted to humans and dogs by infected kissing bugs.

“Infected kissing bugs harbor T. cruzi in their digestive tract,” the article said. “Transmission of the Chagas parasite occurs when fecal material deposited on or near a host by an infected kissing bug is rubbed into the bite site, other wound, or mucosal membrane.”

The website said Chagas disease is “considered a neglected tropical disease in the U.S., with inadequte funding vested in surveillance and research efforts when compared to other infectious diseases.”

The article said 300,000 people in the United States are estimated to be infected with the disease, though most are believed to have been exposed to it in other countries. In many patients, it said, Chagas disease is lifelong and leads to “chronic disease manifestations occurring in patients years to decades after infection.”

While transmission is rare in the United States in comparison to parts of Latin America, the article states that there have been human cases reported in several states, with many canine cases reported in the south.

For more information about kissing bugs and Chagas disease, visit https://vetmed.okstate.edu/labs/vector-borne-parasitic-infections/kissing-bug.html?fbclid=IwAR1d78HHR4Syma0gHnGcy8oTugUhKcjXJ0qqrGKbgB661sT0aNSGPtfyzJg