The "kissing bug," which has recently made headlines out of Texas and which can carry a parasite in its feces that can cause a deadly disease, has historically been found in Georgia, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
However, according to Dr. Susan Montgomery of the CDC, the bugs have been around Georgia since at least 1855 and there has never been a reported case of the disease via the bug in the state.
Known as triatomine bugs, they feed on the blood of mammals, including humans, and sometimes carry a parasite in their feces that causes Chagas disease — which, if left untreated, can cause sudden death, according to the CDC. There are two drugs to treat Chagas, though the disease can become serious if left untreated.
The insects are called "kissing bugs" because they generally bite people on their faces and lips at night.
However, there's a low chance in the United States of getting Chagas from a triatomine bug, according to the CDC. The species of bug in the U.S. is more often found in wooded areas than in people's homes, Montgomery said. It often feeds on wildlife.
Nationwide, there have been less than 30 total reported cases of Chagas acquired through the bugs, Montgomery said.
Worldwide, Chagas kills approximately 12,000 people a year, according to the World Health Organization.
Some people can experience mild flu-like symptoms in the weeks and months following infection, Montgomery said. They will then recover, though they are still infected unless they have sought treatment, according to the CDC. If the bug feces enters the eye, the eyelid will swell.
There are approximately 300,000 people in the U.S. who have been infected by the parasite, but the majority of them acquired it in Latin America, where Chagas is endemic, according to the CDC. The CDC said it does not have enough data to estimate how frequently people in the U.S. are infected with Chagas from triatomine bugs.
Montgomery said it's difficult to detect new infections in the U.S. — because most doctors aren't well educated on how to diagnose it, given its rarity, because many people don't realize they've been infected and because symptoms can appear well after infection.
More research needs to be done on where and how often people are infected, Montgomery said.
Transmission is tricky even if the bug is carrying the parasite (and not all of them are), according to the CDC: Fecal matter from the bug must be rubbed into a bite wound or a mucous membrane, such as the eye.
The bugs are typically found anywhere from under porches or cement, in animal burrows, chicken coops or even outdoor dog houses or kennels, according to the CDC. The bugs tend to defecate on or near a person while feeding, usually while the person sleeps.
The triatomine bugs made news recently, following high-profile news reports and ongoing research on Texas' bug population and rates of Chagas via infection.
"We don't want people to panic. They just need to be aware of the possibility of the existence of this disease in the area," one University of Texas professor, who is researching the bugs, told KHOU.
To keep the insects away from your home, the CDC recommends the following precautions:
• Sealing cracks and gaps around windows, walls, roofs, and doors
• Removing wood, brush, and rock piles near your house
• Using screens on doors and windows and repairing any holes or tears
• If possible, making sure yard lights are not close to your house (lights can attract the bugs)
• Sealing holes and cracks leading to the attic, crawl spaces below the house, and to the outside
• Having pets sleep indoors, especially at night
• Keeping your house and any outdoor pet resting areas clean, in addition to periodically checking both areas for the presence of bugs
If you think you've found a triatomine bug, the CDC advises not to touch or squash the bug, but to place a container on top of it, slide the bug inside and fill it with rubbing alcohol.
If you do not have rubbing alcohol available, the CDC says to freeze the bug in the container before taking it to a local extension service or university laboratory.
For more information about the triatomine bug and precautions, read the full report from the CDC.
This story has been updated. Adam Carlson contributed to this story.