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Loyola experts shed light on Louisiana's emerging deadly tropical diseases in May 15 public forum

May 10, 2013

When Loyola University New Orleans biology professor Patricia Dorn, Ph.D., in collaboration with researchers at Tulane University and Louisiana State University Health Sciences centers, discovered the first case of deadly Chagas disease acquired in Louisiana, they knew they had evidence of a troubling trend—Chagas disease, West Nile and other neglected tropical diseases are emerging as health threats in the state. Dorn will join nine local experts to explore that trend during a Research!America forum Wednesday, May 15. The forum is free and open to the public.

The Research!America forum, “Neglected Tropical Disease Research in Louisiana: Saving Lives and Creating Jobs,” is set for 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine located at 1440 Canal Street in New Orleans. Research!America is the nation's largest nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance working to make research to improve health a higher national priority.

“Chagas disease and other neglected tropical diseases are not just affecting the poor in rural areas of Latin America, these diseases are emerging as silent killers in the Southern U.S., even here in New Orleans,” Dorn said. “While these tropical diseases are often neglected in terms of funding for research and treatments, it’s important the community knows how very real these problems are in our state and in the world.”

Approximately 300,000 people in the U.S. are infected with Chagas disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Louisiana also has the second highest number of West Nile fatalities in the U.S.

“We have been nurturing the perfect storm for a while now,” said Jennifer Chow, director of Global and Public Health at Research!America. “We’re seeing diseases emerging and re-emerging, whether it’s due to increased globalization, trade, migration, urban sprawl or climate change as we're scaling back funds to our federal agencies that track and research these diseases. This is a situation that will not only hurt local communities but the nation as a whole. If we don't address these issues now, we will pay a higher price later.”

Experts are concerned that post-hurricane conditions create an ideal environment for insects that transmit the tropical diseases. The forum’s discussion will focus on the health and economic impact of the diseases throughout the region, research funding and the development of new tools and treatments.

The forum features Dorn along with other local experts:

  • Dr. Pierre Buekens, Ph.D., professor and dean at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine;
  • Maria Calzada, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Natural Sciences at Loyola;
  • Kenneth J. Linthicum, Ph.D., director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology;
  • Jeffrey C. Luvall, Ph.D., of the National Space Science and Technology Center at NASA’s Global Hydrology and Climate Center;
  • John B. Malone, D.V.M., Ph.D., professor and director of the Office of International Programs at Louisiana State University’s School of Veterinary Medicine;
  • Kristy Murray, D.V.M., Ph.D., associate professor of pediatrics at the Baylor College of Medicine National School of Tropical Medicine;
  • Dr. Raoult C. Ratard, state epidemiologist with the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals;
  • Dawn Roellig, Ph.D., microbiologist in the Waterborne Disease Prevention Branch at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and
  • Dawn Wesson, Ph.D., associate professor at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

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Loyola at a Glance is written and distributed for the faculty, staff, students and friends of Loyola University New Orleans. It is published by the Office of Public Affairs, Greenville Hall, Box 909, 7214 St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70118. (504) 861-5888.

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