My primary research interest is to gain a better comprehension of vector-borne diseases in order to better understand both disease dynamics and to predict future disease occurrence. I am also interested in how such an understanding can be used to develop more efficient and focused means of disease control. In the past, much of my work centered on schistosomiasis. This important human disease is caused by infection with trematodes in the genus Schistosoma. More than 200 million people worldwide are believed to be infected, mostly in Africa. Larval development of the schistosome occurs in specific species of freshwater snails, and our research focused on the development of biological control strategies to reduce snail abundance, which might then, in turn, result in fewer human infections.
More recent work has been of a far more local nature, focusing on vector borne disease (West Nile Virus and Canine Onchocerciasis) in Central New Mexico. Regarding West Nile Virus (WNV), most work centers on the dynamics of West Nile Virus transmission in Bernalillo County. Specifically, there are three mosquito species in Central New Mexico that regularly test positive for WNV infection, and consequently are considered to be involved in transmission. Our goal has been to identify which, if any, of these species functions as the primary vector in the sylvatic (bird-to-bird) cycle of WNV, and which, if any, is primarily responsible for bridge transmission to mammals of interest, such as humans and horses. It is our hope that such information might be useful to those interested in protecting humans, horses, and other species of interest from WNV infection. In the case of canine Onchocerciasis, we are investigating factors that make certain dogs more or less likely to become infected with Onchocerca lupi, the nematode parasite causing this disease. Affected dogs experience vision problems that can range from minor inflammation to blindness. The parasite is transmitted to dogs through the bite of infected, blood-feeding black flies (Genus: Simulium). We wish to determine whether these black flies are more likely to feed upon dogs with certain characteristics, placing them at elevated risk for infection with O. lupi. If we are successful, veterinarians could use this information to assist with diagnosis, and to inform clients as to their dogs’ risk of infection.