UPDATE: The "kissing bug" is causing concern in Tennessee and Georgia, after the CDC claims the deadly insect has made its way to the region.

The bugs feed on the blood of mammals, including humans and dogs, and may carry Chagas disease. However, local experts say residents should not be alarmed because the kissing bugs in the Tennessee Valley are not as dangerous as the species in other parts of the world.

Tom Stebbins, University of Tennessee Extension Agent for Hamilton County, studies insects. He says that there is no major threat to people here in the South. In fact, the "kissing bug" isn't anything new here.

"We've had them for years and years," Stebbins said. "Just not in any big numbers to cause alarm to folks."

The bug is known to carry the deadly Chagas disease, which has been widespread in Latin America and mostly in crowded, impoverished neighborhoods with unsanitary living conditions.

As a result, those kissing bugs pose more of a threat, Stebbins said.

"After they make the sting, then their feces has to somehow roll into the wound," he explained of the deadly insects in Latin America.

However, the kissing bugs in our area are less likely to spread disease, he said. Here, the insects quickly move on after making a sting.

"It doesn't stay there very long. It makes its sting, then it moves on somewhere else and does its number," said Stebbins.

While it's unlikely that a human will get sick from a kissing bug, experts say pet owners should be on the lookout, especially anyone who keeps their dogs outside. Canine cases of Chagas disease are on the rise in the American Southwest.

The kissing bug is most likely to hang out under porches, in brush piles, or in outdoor dog houses. It's very unlikely for the insect to make it inside a home that has modern, sealed entryways.

"I wouldn't expect anybody to need to have their whole house bombed because of this," Stebbins said.

The experts say you can kill the insects in your home with a synthetic pyrethroid spray, but it's always best to seek professional advice before using it.

If you come across a kissing bug, don't touch it. Scoop it into a jar and call an expert.

Stebbins suggests taking photos of the bug. Anyone with concerns may e-mail it to tstebbins@utk.edu for identification. Suspected kissing bugs may also be brought to your local extension office or health department for identification.

There are two phases of Chagas disease: the acute phase and the chronic phase. Both phases can be symptom-free or life-threatening. The symptoms you may notice include fever, fatigue, headache, rash, or diarrhea.

PREVIOUS STORY: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a deadly insect known as the "kissing bug"  has made its way to Tennessee and Georgia.

The CDC says there have been sightings of the bug, also known as the triatomine bug, in some southern states. It's unclear when, where or how many of the bugs have been reported. The bugs feed on the blood of mammals, including humans, and may carry a parasite that causes Chagas disease — which the CDC says can be fatal if left untreated. The bug also has 11 different species variants.

The CDC says residents should double check around their homes for cracks and holes because the bug tends to hide under beds and mattresses.

The Triatomine bugs (also called reduviid bugs, "kissing" bugs, assassin bugs, cone-nosed bugs, and blood suckers) can live indoors, in cracks and holes of substandard housing, or in a variety of outdoor settings including:

  • Beneath porches
  • Between rocky structures
  • Under cement
  • In rock, wood, brush piles, or beneath bark
  • In rodent nests or animal burrows
  • In outdoor dog houses or kennels
  • In chicken coops or houses

Triatomine bugs are primarily nocturnal, according to the CDC, and feed on the blood of mammals (including humans), birds, and reptiles. Triatomine bugs live in a wide range of environmental settings, generally within close proximity to a blood host. In areas of Latin America where human Chagas disease is an important public health problem, the bugs nest in cracks and holes of substandard housing.

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. Discovery of immature stages of the bug (wingless, smaller nymphs) inside may be an indication of infestation. When the bugs are found inside, they are likely to be in one of the following settings:

  • Near pet resting areas
  • In areas of rodent infestation
  • In and around beds and bedrooms, especially under or near mattresses or night stands

The CDC also says that if you come across a Triatomine bug, you should:

  • Do not touch or squash the bug. 
  • Place a container on top of the bug, slide the bug inside, and fill it with rubbing alcohol or, if not available, freeze the bug in the container. 
  • Then, you may take it to your local extension service, health department, or a university laboratory for species identification. 

In the event that none of these resources is available in your area, you may contact CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria (parasites@cdc.gov) for species identification or T. cruzi testing.

Any material containing bug parts or feces should also be submitted for testing, preferably in a plastic bag or clean sealable container. Surfaces that have come into contact with the bug should be cleaned with a solution made of 1 part bleach to 9 parts water (or 7 parts ethanol to 3 parts water)

More information about the triatomine bug and precautions can be found on the CDC website.