Feeding behavior of triatomines from the southwestern United States: an update on potential risk for transmission of Chagas disease

Acta Trop. 2009 Aug;111(2):114-8. doi: 10.1016/j.actatropica.2009.03.003. Epub 2009 Mar 24.


Chagas disease is an emerging infectious disease in North America due to the immigration of individuals from endemic areas. The parasite has been transmitted to patients in non-endemic areas by blood transfusion and organ donation. Only six autochthonous cases have been described in humans in the United States yet the parasite is widespread among native mammals and resident triatomines are competent vectors. We attempted to determine if common southwestern triatomines, Triatoma protracta and Triatoma rubida have the potential to amplify the disease among human residents of the Southwest. The defecation patterns of the bugs were studied while feeding upon immobilized mice. Wild-caught adult male and female triatomines were observed feeding one to three times for a total of 71 observed feedings. T. rubida (15 bugs) appeared to be more aggressive, beginning feeding shortly after being placed in proximity to the host (within 2.3 min) whereas Triatoma protracta (12 bugs) was more deliberate, beginning feeding, on average, at 4 min. There were 40 observations of T. rubida, which fed for 27.9+/-13.6 min, whereas T. protracta fed for 22.8+/-7.5 min (n=31). Bugs were weighed pre- and post-feeding and T. rubida females ingested>T. protracta females>T. rubida males>T. protracta males. Weight gain did not correspond to the feeding duration. Defecation occurred on 42% of the feedings (30 of 71), and no bugs defecated on the host. The majority of the defecations occurred within 1 min of feeding, usually at the time of repletion. A large proportion of defecations occurred after the bugs left the vicinity of the host. All bugs and at least one fecal smear from each feeding bug were tested for Trypanosoma cruzi and 21% of T. protracta were positive by PCR (4 bugs and 1 feces). No T. rubida tested positive for T. cruzi. The bugs' defecation pattern is similar to that reported >50 years ago. Furthermore, there is no indication that they are becoming more domesticated in the desert Southwest. Thus, based on our observations, we do not believe that T. protracta and T. rubida pose an imminent risk for transmission of Chagas disease to residents of the southwestern United States.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Feces / parasitology
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Southwestern United States
  • Triatoma / parasitology
  • Triatoma / physiology*
  • Trypanosoma cruzi / isolation & purification