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Don’t get kissed by the kissing bug

Jane Anderson had never heard of a kissing bug until she was bitten by one on the night of Sept. 6.

Anderson, a 71-year-old resident of Nevada City, woke up in the middle of the night with her hands swollen and itching. Soon her tongue and face began swelling and her torso was covered in itching welts.

When Anderson went to the emergency room at the Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, “the first thing the doctor said was it could be a kissing bug,” she said. “I had never heard of it before.”



Kissing bugs or triatoma “are obligate blood feeders … and a variety of dermatologic eruptions or death from (acute reaction) can result” from its bites, according to the Dermatology Online Journal of the Department of Dermatology at the University of California in Davis.

“These bugs are endemic in the Sierra Nevada foothills,” Dr. Michael McCormick, a local physician and special in allergies and asthma said. “A lot of people are exposed to them and are bitten by them, but don’t know about them. The ones who have allergic reactions, come to know about it.




“Kissing bugs usually bite on exposed areas like the face or arms at night when you are sleeping. The bites are painless. In the daylight, they are gone.”

Kissing bugs typically live in the nests of rodents and enter the house at night following the light, McCormick said.

“You need to make sure the screens on your windows are tight,” McCormick said. “You also need to eliminate rats around your home. Make your home insect proof because the bugs can slip through a crack.”

People doing yardwork usually needn’t worry about being bitten by kissing bugs “as long as you aren’t exposed to nests of rodents,” McCormick said.

“This is the kind of reaction one can have with a peanut,” McCormick said. “Antihistamines are given for hives and swells. But if one is having breathing problems or tongue swelling, one needs to go to the emergency room.”

Anderson now carries two 0.15 milligram epinephrine auto-injections with her which she’d have to administer to herself next time she has a reaction.

“The more you get bitten, the more allergic you get,” Anderson said. “The doctor said … I need to seal my house and have it treated for bugs.”

To contact Soumitro Sen, e-mail ssen@theunion.com or call 477-4229.


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