Chagas Disease Epidemiology in DHS Working Dogs

Principal Investigator(s):


There is currently no available, approved treatment for canine Chagas disease nor is there a vaccine to protect against the parasite. Diagnosis of canine Chagas disease most commonly happens during the chronic phase when experimental treatments rarely change the outcome of disease. Thus, prevention of infection is the main approach for disease management. The mechanisms by which border patrol dogs are becoming infected must be identified to facilitate the development of effective disease management strategies.

This epidemiological investigation of Chagas disease in canines within a network of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) border patrol working dogs populations along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas will help determine when and where dogs are becoming exposed, and quantify the prevalence of exposure.  This information is prerequisite for an effective disease management program. The study aims include elucidating the geographic patterns of canine seropositivity and parasitemia through sampling of working dogs at selected border points; identifying risk factors for infection; determining infection prevalence in kissing bugs collected by dog handlers and border patrol officers from areas frequented by border patrol dogs; and identifying the parasite genotypes that infect dogs and local kissing bugs in relation to those implicated in human disease.

Outcomes and impacts

The distribution of working dogs along the U.S.-Mexico border in Texas allows the opportunity for a rigorous epidemiological study design in which spatial patterns of infection can be determined. Results will allow DHS personnel to understand when and where transmission is occurring. Therefore, canine breeding programs and plans for transport and relocation of animals can be modified to reduce transmission potential. This project will result in data to support such management decisions. These initial studies of canine Chagas disease epidemiology may also lead to additional studies of the human dog handlers. Although direct transmission of the Chagas parasite from dogs to humans is unlikely, the dog handlers comprise an ideal population for future studies given their close relationship with dogs in areas where kissing bugs occur along the border.