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Biology professor and students educate public about kissing bugs

September 19, 2008

Loyola University New Orleans Professor of Biology Patricia Dorn, Ph.D., participated in an information session hosted by New Orleans City Councilman James Carter to educate residents in preventing infestations by kissing bugs, which are known to carry a parasitic disease called Chagas disease. Dorn, an international expert on this disease presented information and took questions from the public.

The meeting took place Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 p.m., at the Chua Bo De Buddist Temple, in Lower Coast, Algiers. The session was held in conjunction with Loyola and Tulane University.

Those who attended the session learned about the risk of acquiring the Chagas parasite from the kissing bugs and the blood supply, how to prevent transmission of Chagas disease and how to request testing. Residents were offered free blood screenings at the session and environmental assessments of their property. They were also able to view a specimen of the kissing bug.

Loyola biology majors Gabriela Estrada and Laura Duncan helped prepare the information sheet distributed to residents attending the meeting. Estrada also assisted in testing 20 to 30 residents, who chose to be tested for exposure to the Chagas parasite.

Estrada and Duncan worked on the Chagas project this summer as part of their participation as Public Health Research Scholars, a program run by Dorn and funded by the Louisiana Board of Regents.

According to Dorn, very few cases of human infection by the Chagas parasite are known in the United States. However, Dorn and Dr. Dawn Wesson, associate professor of tropical medicine at Tulane University, were able to identify a locally acquired case of insect-transmitted Chagas Disease in the Greater New Orleans area in the summer of 2006.

Chagas disease is a leading cause of heart disease in Latin America.

Screening of the U.S. blood supply for the Chagas parasite began in 2007. So far, fewer than 2,400 blood units have been shown to be positive for the parasite.

For more information, contact Dr. Patricia Dorn at dorn@loyno.edu or call (504) 865-3672.

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