'Kissing bugs' are in Pa., but probably won't hurt you

York Dispatch

If you read the news frequently, you may have come across a creepy series of stories about the "kissing bug" that bites you on the face while you sleep, poops on you and gives you a disease that lies dormant for years until it eventually kills you.

Here's the deal, according to authorities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Yes, these bugs are real and have been reported in Pennsylvania, but no, the disease isn't anything close to common here, and no, York City's Bureau of Health does not know of any cases in the area.

Triatomine bug.

The triatomine bugs — that's their real name — are, in fact, pretty disconcerting: They seek to bite people around the lips, especially at night, and are the main carriers of a parasite that causes Chagas disease, a malady that can lead to heart disease or intestinal complications, according to the CDC. The inch-long bugs are usually nocturnal, the organization says.

The CDC describes the disease as an "important public health problem" in some Central and South American countries, but says it isn't here: "Because most indoor structures in the United States are built with plastered walls and sealed entryways to prevent insect invasion, triatomine bugs rarely infest indoor areas of houses," the organization's website states.

That said, the CDC says the bugs do exist in more than half of the United States — including Pennsylvania, though it's unclear if anyone's ever contracted the disease in his state.

Triatomine bug.

Chagas disease is not a reportable condition in Pennsylvania, which means the state Department of Health doesn't keep tabs on how many cases have been diagnosed, according to a department spokesman.

Though the disease can occur in the United States, it isn't endemic here, according to the department. That means it isn't native or normal to exist here.

Also, the CDC adds, transmission from an infected bug to a person isn't easy. The bug has to defecate in such a way that the bug poop gets in a bite or is in contact with a mucus membrane.

"The likelihood of getting Chagas disease from a triatomine bug in the United States is low, even if the bug is infected," according to the CDC.

Though if you do indeed find the bug, and think you may have been bitten — especially if you develop what's called Romaña's sign, which is a swollen eyelid — go to the doctor, the CDC advises. The disease can go undetectable for many years — and actually, many infected people may live out their entire lives with no real adverse effects — before causing serious health complications.