Dr. Sarah Hamer, Department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine
Title: “Chagas disease ecology at the intersection of human, animal, and vector populations”
Abstract: The maintenance of vector-borne zoonotic pathogens in nature is often sustained by cryptic transmission among wildlife reservoirs with occasional spillover to humans. I will present my lab’s research program on the ecology of Chagas disease, a significant heart disease and cause of death in humans and dogs across Latin America that is increasingly recognized in the southern United States. The disease is caused by infection with a protozoan parasite (Trypanosoma cruzi) that is spread by bloodfeeding Triatomine ‘kissing’ bugs. Our citizen science program is empowering the public and medical community and has resulted in the submission of over 1800 kissing bugs from across the southern states; these bugs are characterized by over 60% infection prevalence. We are comparing parasite strains that circulate among bugs and various wildlife species to those we have isolated from dogs that died of Chagas cardiomyopathy. In contrast to current media hype about invasion across the border, I will discuss the endemicity of the components of the Chagas pathosystem in the southern states.