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Chagas disease eco-epidemiology

We are taking a broad, ecological approach to understanding the distribution and determinants of Chagas disease in the southern US with many new projects in the field and lab.  Chagas disease is a devastating infectious heart disease and cause of death in humans and dogs caused by infection with the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi. This parasite is spread by Triatoma species 'kissing bug' vectors.  The disease is endemic throughout much of central and South America, and there is increasing recognition for kissing bugs and Chagas disease in the southern United States.  Texas appears to be a hotspot for infection, due to the widespread distribution of infected kissing bugs.  Please read more in our outreach pamphlets that can be downloaded to the right.  Additionally, you can download a short overview about Chagas disease written by our lab members here.

Citizen Science Initiative

RachelBugs

Canine Chagas ImageOur lab is currently accepting carefully-collected kissing bugs from across the southern US for PamphletCoverresearch purposes. We will identify bugs and test for the presence of Trypanosoma cruzi. It is critical that you do not come in direct contact with bug, its feces, or areas contaminated by the bug. Please note that bugs associated with human bites may be submitted to the CDC for identification and testing, and we will be happy to provide details for this.  Citizen submissions are boosting our sample size and geographic area of analysis, and greatly broadening the impact of our science.  For more details including instructins for safe handling of kissing bugs, please visit our new Citizen Science Website:

http://kissingbug.tamu.edu/

Among the features of the website is an interactive map, so readers can see in real-time areas of the state from which kissing bugs have been submitted by the public.  Also, there is a contact form that allows readers to upload some encounter information and photos of suspect kissing bugs and for identification prior to submission to the research team for diagnostic testing for the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite.  Thanks for supporting our program and sharing the website!


TheBarn

Ecological Investigations of bugs and wildlife

Our lab has initiated ecological field studies across diverse ecoregions in central and southern Texas.  We aim to characterize kissing bug activity patterns, species distributions, host associations, and parasite infection prevalence and strain diversity.  Additionally, we are trapping wildlife species that may serve as reservoirs for the parasite, from which we obtain blood samples for infection testing in the laboratory.  With samples collected in this project, we will assess the genetic diversity of the parasite as it relates to bug and host species and geographic region.

Canine shelter dogs as a model for understanding riskShelterDogMap

A crisis of canine Chagas disease currently exists in the southern US, and Texas is a hotspot for canine disease. The increasing diagnoses across many breeds of dogs are met with limited to no options for treatment, and low public awareness for preventive measures. In general, the most common mode of parasite transmission occurs when the Triatoma vector defecates the infectious stage of the parasite onto the bloodfeeding site or the host's mucous membranes.  However, in North America many dogs may become infected due to consumption of infected kissing bugs. Additionally, the parasite can be passed from infected mothers to offspring, raising serious concerns for breeding programs in affected areas that involve Chagas positive breeding females. Stray dogs have increased exposure to vectors and parasites and are a good sentinel for assessing disease risk across the landscape.  We have established a network of seven canine shelters throughout Texas to assess vector-borne infections in 'high risk'  canine populations.  Using a longitudinal study design, we collect blood, fecal, and ectoparasite samples from 30 dogs upon admittance to each shelter once per 3-6 months for one full year.  Canine blood samples are subjected to a series of serological assays and direct pathogen detection to detect parasitic and vector-borne infections and coinfections.

Laboratory mouse model to explore parasitic coinfectionsmouse

Polyparasitism, or concurrent infection of a host with more than one medically important parasite, is common throughout the world's low-income countries, many of which are Chagas-endemic areas. This situation introduces the opportunity for immune-mediated indirect interactions between nematodes and protozoa such as Trypanosoma cruzi. We are developing a laboratory mouse model to evaluate the effects of co-infection with a nematode parasite on Chagas disease severity.