Allergic Reactions to Kissing Bug Bites

3-Year Project has ended (2006-2009)

Thank you Arizona for your overwhelming response!


STAY TUNED for FUTURE research projects!


Remember to report kissing bug bites to your physician or to a Poison Control Center


Kissing bugs are a current problem to human health mainly because of the moderate-to-severe, and sometimes life-threatening, allergic reactions their bites cause. This and other related problems could become more serious in the future owing to the fact that human populations are continuously expanding into the surrounding deserts, the natural habitat of kissing bugs. Because the bug’s bite is painless and occurs at night, most people never know they have been bitten, but some experience severe allergic reactions as a result

During a kissing bug's bite to obtain blood, it injects salivary proteins that may initiate a variety of allergic reactions in humans. In the United States, five (5) kissing bug species have been reported to cause allergic reactions, mostly in the West and the Southwest. In the Tucson area the most important species causing allergic reactions are T. rubida, T. protracta, and to a lesser extent, T. longipes.

Allergic reactions include generalized cutaneous symptoms (urticaria, angioedema, flushing, pruritus), gastrointestinal symptoms (nausea, vomiting, diarrhea), respiratory symptoms (wheezing, dyspnea, laryngeal edema), syncope and hypotension, and most seriously, severe anaphylaxis (a life-threatening, systemic allergic reaction) in sensitized individuals. Most of the 669 exposures to kissing bugs reported by US Poison Control Centers between 2000-2005 occurred in Arizona [sources: American Association of Poison Control Centers; Arizona Poison and Drug Information Center, University of Arizona Health Sciences Center, Tucson, AZ]. It is important to consider that the actual numbers of human exposures to kissing bugs are very likely to be much higher, because many cases are not reported or are mistakenly attributed to other causes. Most people living close to desert areas recall seeing the insects and being bitten, but do not necessarily report that to their physicians. It is estimated that severe allergic sensitization may develop in as many as 7% of individuals. Often sensitization develops as a consequence of repeated biting by kissing bugs.

There is no immunotherapy available for sensitized individuals, and furthermore, allergic reactions are species-specific.

The best way of reducing the incidence of allergic reactions is to diminish the contacts between humans and kissing bugs by trapping the bugs. It is notable that the population of Pima County increased 59% in the period 1980-2000, with most of the growth in kissing bug habitat outside Tucson city limits.

Some additional information about allergies related to kissing bugs:

The University of Arizona Health Sciences Center
"Allergy and Asthma in the Southwestern United States"

Western Journal of Medicine
"Allergic Reactions to'Kissing Bug' Bites"

American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology
"Tips from Allergists To Prevent Bug Bites"

U.S. POISON CENTER for all states: 1-800-222-1222

Arizona Health Sciences Center, Room 1156
1501 North Campbell Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85724
Emergency: 1-800-222-1222