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Justin Bejcek

Kissing Bugs and Public Health

Justin Bejcek, a Texas A&M University Master of Science candidate in Veterinary Public Health and Epidemiology, attended the ICE 2016 XXV International Congress of Entomology in Orlando, Florida on September 25-30, 2016. His research focused on helping the public differentiate between kissing bugs (Triatominae), which are vectors of Chagas disease, and non-kissing bugs. Justin was mentored by Dr. Sarah Hamer, Assistant Professor in the department of Veterinary Integrative Biosciences, College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, and Dr. Gabriel Hamer, Assistant Professor in the department of Entomology, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“The research goal for this study was to help people better understand the differences between kissing bugs (vectors of Chagas disease) and insects of similar appearance that are commonly mistaken for the true vector," Justin commented. "I developed an insect identification guide to help people with or without entomological expertise to differentiate between the kissing bugs and non-kissing bugs through descriptions written in laymen’s terms. Medical and veterinary professionals, concerned citizens, local public health workers, and professional pest managers, can use this basic knowledge, ensuring this will be the first step in integrative vector management programs for Chagas disease.”

Dr. Gabriel Hamer said, “Justin has applied his training as an entomologist to develop a simple tool that will allow the public to identify the blood-sucking insects that transmit the parasite that causes Chagas disease. Proper identification of insects capable of transmitting pathogens, and differentiating them from common, harmless insects, is a critical first step toward assessing risk of vector-borne disease and protecting human and animal health. Justin’s user–friendly guide to identify ‘kissing bugs’ will help dispel some of the confusion about these insects that cause lots of worry among veterinary, medical, and public health communities. Justin’s work is also furthering our citizen science program through which members of the public across the state can submit kissing bugs they encounter to send to our lab.”

At the conference, Justin was able to interact with entomologist experts who showed considerable interest in his project. Justin was able to receive information about how these experts deal with misidentifications with the kissing bugs. This project will be helpful for public health awareness in the Southern United States.

Click here to view Justin's abstract.

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