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New Faculty Research Spotlight

Paula Stigler Granados, School of Health Administration

Dr. Stigler Granados Tackles “Kissing Bug” a "Silent Killer"


“At its core, my research is driven and motivated by working side-by-side with community leaders to help protect the health of residents and families.”

Dr. Paula Stigler Granados
Dr. Paula Stigler Granados | Photo by Ángel Granados

About Dr. Stigler Granados

 I am a new faculty member at Texas State University in the School of Health Administration. I came to Texas State in Fall 2018 after spending four years at UTHealth School of Public Health San Antonio in Community Health Practice. Over the last decade, my research has focused on vulnerable populations and population health with an emphasis on community engagement. I have worked extensively with Latino and Native American populations along the U.S./Mexico border to address important public health issues, like access to clean drinking water and prevention of vector-borne diseases. At its core, my research is driven and motivated by working side-by-side with community leaders to help protect the health of residents and families. During the last four years, I have been working on Chagas disease in Texas. I was able to bring my Centers for Disease Control (CDC)-funded grant to Texas State to carry on researching this important neglected disease.

3 Bugs

The Story of Chagas Disease

Chagas disease is sometimes referred to as a “silent killer.” Most people living with this chronic disease will be without symptoms for years or even decades, and most will go undiagnosed until either they are no longer eligible for treatment or the damage is irreversible and fatal. The disease is caused by a parasite that lives in the gut of an insect called a Kissing Bug (commonly found across Texas), and unfortunately most people and physicians are completely unaware of the harm this bug can cause to their health.

Having experience in vector-borne diseases, I was approached by epidemiologists at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio because their military working dogs were dying from Chagas disease. It soon became obvious there was significant evidence of transmission of the disease to the dogs, but very little was known about the risk to humans. I soon learned there was not only a significant risk to humans, but most physicians also knew very little about diagnosis and treatment, and most people were unable to identify the insects.

Chagas disease is complicated. Most people don’t know they've been infected because kissing bugs often bite at night while a person is sleeping and completely unaware it’s happening. The story is even stranger yet because the bite itself is not even what infects the person. The parasite is actually in the insect’s feces, which may enter the bite wound and cause infection. If infected, a person can live with this disease and never have symptoms or be one of the unlucky ones to eventually die from the untreated disease. The tricky thing about Chagas disease is that it can be treated before symptoms develop. However, if a physician has never heard of the disease or doesn’t know it exists in the United States, it’s difficult to get diagnosed and go on to receive treatment.

Dr. Rodney E Rohde
Dr. Rodney E Rohde

Recognizing the need to raise awareness among not only physicians, but also veterinarians, public health specialists, pest control companies, and the general public, I wrote a grant for funding from the CDC and then started the Texas Chagas Taskforce. Raising awareness is helping us to better understand the prevalence of this disease in Texas and will ultimately help guide future research by increasing testing and improving diagnostics. Under the guidance of Dr. Matt Brooks, I have started collaborating with other faculty in Health Administration (HA) as well as Clinical Laboratory Science (CLS), also in the College of Health Professions.   I am honored to have Dr. Rodney E. Rohde serving as my mentor at Texas State, as he is a subject-matter expert in zoonotic and vector-borne diseases like Chagas disease as well as many other agents like rabies and hantavirus.

We have already begun submitting collaborative grants incorporating CLS and HA faculty, partner institutions, graduate students, and undergraduate students, which will help improve interprofessional education and translational research across the state. For more information on Chagas disease, you can download this guide I recently published with the Texas Chagas Taskforce at https://goo.gl/EuiNmn or follow us on Facebook @TexasChagasTaskforce