Combining Public Health Education and Disease Ecology Research: Using Citizen Science to Assess Chagas Disease Entomological Risk in Texas.
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BACKGROUND: Chagas disease is a zoonotic parasitic disease well-documented throughout the Americas and transmitted primarily by triatomine 'kissing bug' vectors. In acknowledgment of the successful history of vector control programs based on community participation across Latin America, we used a citizen science approach to gain novel insight into the geographic distribution, seasonal activity, and Trypanosoma cruzi infection prevalence of kissing bugs in Texas while empowering the public with information about Chagas disease. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We accepted submissions of kissing bugs encountered by the public in Texas and other states from 2013-2014 while providing educational literature about Chagas disease. In the laboratory, kissing bugs were identified to species, dissected, and tested for T. cruzi infection. A total of 1,980 triatomines were submitted to the program comprised of at least seven species, of which T. gerstaeckeri and T. sanguisuga were the most abundant (85.7% of submissions). Triatomines were most commonly collected from dog kennels and outdoor patios; Overall, 10.5% of triatomines were collected from inside the home. Triatomines were submitted from across Texas, including many counties which were not previously known to harbor kissing bugs. Kissing bugs were captured primarily throughout April-October, and peak activity occurred in June-July. Emails to our dedicated account regarding kissing bugs were more frequent in the summer months (June-August) than the rest of the year. We detected T. cruzi in 63.3% of tested bugs. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Citizen science is an efficient approach for generating data on the distribution, phenology, and infection prevalence of kissing bugs-vectors of the Chagas disease parasite-while educating the public and medical community.