UI joins CDC-funded center focused on insect-borne diseases

The University of Iowa is among a group of Midwestern universities taking part in a new regional center focused on improving the understanding of and public health response to diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas.

Christine Petersen

The Upper Midwestern Center of Excellence in Vector Borne Diseases, funded by a $10 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will develop research and training programs to address diseases such as Zika, West Nile, and Lyme disease.

Led by personnel at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the center includes experts from the University of Iowa College of Public Health, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, University of Michigan, and Minnesota Department of Health.

Christine Petersen, DVM, PhD, associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa, will lead the UI’s involvement.

“Our role is to help train students in Iowa for a Certificate in Public Health Entomology and to increase the knowledge of vector-borne diseases in the Upper Midwest,” says Petersen. Students will be recruited from Iowa universities and the public health workforce.

“About half of the students who come into the epidemiology program at the UI identify infectious diseases as an area of interest. This new training and certificate program will be an outstanding opportunity for them to pursue that interest,” Petersen adds.

In addition to teaching and training students, Petersen and her colleagues will help identify practicum and Master of Public Health capstone experiences for students at the University of Iowa and Iowa State University with an interest in vector-borne diseases.

Study examines transmission of Leishmaniasis within the U.S.

A recent study conducted by University of Iowa researchers indicates that Leishmaniasis – a tropical disease caused by infection with Leishmania parasites – can be transmitted from infected U.S. dogs to humans via the bite of infected sand flies.

There are several different forms of leishmaniasis in people. The most common forms are cutaneous leishmaniasis, which causes skin sores, and visceral leishmaniasis, which affects several internal organs (usually spleen, liver, and bone marrow) and is fatal.

In the United States, a species of the parasite that causes visceral leishmaniasis circulates among hounds used for hunting. Previous evidence has indicated that spread of these parasites among hounds is from mother to pups (vertical transmission) rather than by sand fly bites (vectorborne transmission).

Christine Petersen
Christine Petersen

However, experimental work reported in the December 2015 issue of Emerging Infectious Disease showed that sand flies that had fed on infected hounds were capable of supporting the parasite and spreading it to hamsters.

Christine Petersen, associate professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Emerging and Infectious Diseases at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, served as corresponding author of the study.  According to Petersen, the study shows that the U.S. strain of Leishmania doesn’t behave differently that the tropical version, and it can spread from infected U.S. dogs by an insect vector.

“Sand flies found already in this country are capable of spreading the disease that can be fatal to both people and dogs,” she says.

Peterson says the disease is fairly rare in humans, but the study indicates that given the right subject – one that is immunocompromised and working closely with infected dogs, for example – and the right conditions, the parasite can be transmitted to humans.

This vectorborne transmission from hounds (and possibly coyotes, foxes, and opossums) to another mammalian species indicates a possible risk for spread to companion dogs and people in the United States. Because no vaccines or drugs to prevent infection are available, the best way to prevent infection is to avoid insect bites.

To read the full article, visit: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/21/12/14-1167_article

Oleson, Petersen featured on Iowa Public Radio

Two CPH faculty members were interviewed recently for the Iowa Public Radio show “River to River.”

Jake Oleson, associate professor of biostatistics, spoke about a statistical model he and a colleague developed several years ago that predicted the spread of avian influenza in the Midwest. Oleson’s segment begins around the 31:50 mark at this link.

Christy Petersen, associate professor of epidemiology, discussed the use of antibiotics in animal production. Listen to the segment below.

Q&A with Christine Petersen


Petersen named recipient of New Faculty Research Award

Christine Petersen
Christine Petersen

Christine Petersen, associate professor of epidemiology, has been named the recipient of the 2015 College of Public Health New Faculty Research Award. This award was established by the college to assist newly appointed or junior  faculty in collecting preliminary data or pilot studies leading to larger projects. The awards are based on scientific merit, including originality; relevance to the UI public health mission; and likelihood of subsequent extramural funding.

The goal of Petersen’s project, “Prevalence and risk factors of companion animal zoonoses in caretakers,” is to identify for the first time in the United States what the risk of zoonotic disease infection is in hunting dog caretakers. In addition, it will be the first study that uses more sensitive methods, specifically quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, to determine the prevalence rate of zoonoses infection within hunting dog caretakers and duck hunters as compared to the general population.

Other members of Petersen’s research team include Matthew Nonnenmann, CPH assistant professor of occupational and environmental health, and Lucy DesJardin with the State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa.