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Loyola University New Orleans Professor Discovers New Species of Deadly “Kissing Bug”

Loyola press release - November 13, 2018

Impactful Research with Student Collaborators to Prevent Disease

Dr. Patricia L. Dorn, a Loyola University New Orleans (Loyola) professor, recently discovered a new species of deadly kissing bug, Triatoma mopan, named after the indigenous Mopan Mayan people, while conducting research with a small student group in Belize at the Rio Frio Cave site.

These insects carry a potentially life-threatening parasitic disease called Chagas. It should be no shock that Triatominae, commonly referred to as kissing bugs, come from a larger family of insects known as assassin bugs. Dorn has spent more than 17 years researching the impact of these insects and the disease they carry, as well as developing new methodology for tracking, control and prevention.

According to Dorn, “eight to nine million people in Mexico, Central and South America are already infected with the parasite and 30 to 40 percent of those are doomed to life-threatening heart disease.”

Dorn and her research group, which includes student collaborators from Loyola, have made groundbreaking discoveries that can impact the future of public health throughout the region and surrounding areas.

A significant amount of her research is conducted in Latin America, specifically Guatemala, where there is a high concentration of infestation. In this region, Chagas is the leading cause of heart disease. Over the past year the research group has authored 6 articles on their discoveries published in international journals and edited volumes.

Although rare in the United States, Dorn notes there is a potential for heightened transmission rates in North America as research reveals there has been more human to triatomine contact than initially believed.

Dorn notes that allergic reactions to bites from kissing bugs are the leading cause of insect bite induced anaphylactic shock in the United States.

The first human case of insect-transmitted Chagas in Louisiana occurred in New Orleans in 2006.

Chagas can also be transmitted by blood and in 2007 the U.S. began screening its blood supply for the disease. Since the implementation of screening they have encountered more than 1,600 cases of blood supply affected Chagas.

Learn more about Dorn’s research and student-focused collaboration here.

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