Texas A&M Faculty and Researchers Develop Chagas Case Study Learning Module

Faculty and researchers at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM) have turned the recent increase in Chagas disease cases in Texas into a learning opportunity by developing an online case study learning module. The case study was one of only 15 selected for web publication by the American Association of Veterinary Medical Colleges’ (AAVMC) and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research’s (APTR) joint One Health Interprofessional Education Initiative.

Chagas disease, an infectious disease caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi and transmitted by the kissing bug, has many Texans concerned. Recent spread of Chagas disease, which affects humans and animals in the southern United States and Latin America, has made media headlines. This increase in cases and growing concern over the disease led researchers to develop the Chagas case study as an educational tool for health professionals.

The module was created through a collaboration between faculty and researchers at the CVM, Baylor College of Medicine, and Texas A&M Health Science Center–McAllen. The module was supported through funding from the Texas A&M One Health Initiative.

The module’s content was developed by faculty and students at the CVM: Associate Professor Dr. Ashley Saunders, expert in clinical cardiology in dogs, as well as Assistant Professor Dr. Sarah Hamer, Ph.D. student Rachel Curtis-Robles, and veterinary student Trevor Tenney, experts in the ecology and epidemiology of the kissing bug and T. cruzi. Additional content addressing public health was contributed by Dr. Ann Millard, associate professor at the Texas A&M Health Science Center–McAllen, and Dr. Melissa Garcia, research associate at Baylor College of Medicine.

The case was developed in collaboration with The Center for Educational Technologies (CET) at the CVM, including Dr. Jodi Korich and Dr. Jordan Tayce. The web-based case study allows students to make a series of clinical decisions as they follow a real case from diagnosis through treatment and is supplemented with instructional video lectures, diagnostic charts, and other reference materials in an interactive and media-rich format.

“The case study turned out really cool, and it’s interactive. That is the beauty of working with the CET,” said Saunders, who was designated as an AAVMC One Health Scholar as the principal investigator. “The whole point is that faculty at another university in other health professions could teach their students with a case study that was developed by experts from Texas A&M.”

“It’s all digitally interactive,” said Tayce, an instructional assistant professor at the CET. “A user can be in any location at any time and still go through this case. That’s what makes our case study unique.”

The case study features a dog diagnosed with Chagas disease in Texas, but it is not limited to veterinary applications. According to the researchers, the Chagas case highlights the One Health Initiative by focusing on important connections between humans, animals, and the environment. Therefore, it can be used by students in a variety of disciplines, including human and veterinary medicine.

“It’s not just veterinary,” Tayce said. “It’s geared toward medical students, public health students, environmental science students, and others.”

According to Saunders, the collaborations that built the case study are what make it so versatile. “The AAVMC and APTR wanted the case study to not just be veterinary focused, but they also wanted to include people from all disciplines,” she said. “I knew we had enough people, and it was going to be a successful collaborative effort. I knew we could do it, so I started pulling people in from all different places to help us.”

The Chagas case study uses technology to enhance students’ knowledge and understanding of the disease, including the clinical presentation and cardiac manifestations in dogs, when to test for infectious diseases, kissing bug ecology and epidemiology, and client education on animal and human health aspects and kissing bug management.

“At the CET, we work to make sure we’re using proven educational practices in all of the material we build,” Tayce said. “We work with the faculty to make sure that from the beginning and all the way through to the end we’re using these established educational practices when we create content.”

Saunders said this module is not only suited for veterinary students, but also for students in other health-related disciplines. She noted that, as a veterinarian, she could imagine the benefits of increased education. “One of the difficult things about Chagas disease is the questions I receive from owners about how to save their dog,” she said. “We can definitely help the dogs, but even more important is what goes on at home, like where did they get exposed and who else can get infected. So, we brought in all these experts to build a case that was comprehensive and a really great collaborative effort.”