Date(s) - February 2, 2018
11:00 am - 12:30 pm
LSC 386, Lory Student Center
Categories No Categories
Parasitic Disease among the Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador:
Testing Regional Infection Variation and Life History Trade-offs
Soil-transmitted helminths (STHs, parasitic worms) infect over 1.4 billion people globally, particularly in economically developing nations in tropical regions. Helminth infection can impair growth, cognitive development, economic productivity, and in severe cases can even result in death. Compared with its impact, STH infection has received relatively little research attention. Studies do show varied effects of economic development on STH infection, but it remains unclear how environmental, behavioral, and biological factors interact to shape these patterns. Here, I examine regional variation in sex and age-related patterns of STH infection among Indigenous Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador. I then examine how one of the biological factors thought to influence disease susceptibility, the hormone testosterone, is related to infection status among Shuar men. Testosterone is thought to either suppress or trade-off with investment in immune function, but these hypotheses are based primarily on non-human animal models. The Costs of Dominance model suggests that testosterone increases infection susceptibility. Conversely, the Immunocompetence Handicap Hypothesis suggests that traits related to high testosterone levels are signals of better immune function, and hence males with higher testosterone are expected to have lower parasite loads. I examine the competing assumptions of these models, providing a novel test of associations between testosterone and parasitic infection in a natural fertility population with a high infectious disease burden. This work highlights how ecological, socio-economic, and biological factors interact to affect parasitic soil-transmitted helminth infection.
About the Speaker
Theresa Gildner is a biological anthropologist who uses a biocultural approach, grounded in life history theory, to examine environmental, socio-economic, and behavioral effects on human health and well-being. She conducts research in collaboration with two long-term international projects. Her research with the Shuar Health and Life History project among Indigenous Shuar of Amazonian Ecuador examines how inter- and intra- regional variation in economic development alters relationships among hormone levels, immune function, and infection prevalence and intensity. This research focuses primarily on parasitic disease, with the goal of understanding how these interactions can be used to design more effective disease intervention programs. Theresa is also involved in ongoing research with the World Health Organization’s Study on global AGEing and adult health (SAGE). This longitudinal study examines factors affecting health and well-being among older adults in six middle-income countries, providing novel data on ageing processes across culturally, geographically, and economically diverse populations. As part of the SAGE team, Theresa has published research on how age-related physical and behavioral changes influence health in older individuals, particularly how sleep patterns, cardiovascular health, and physical function are related to cognitive performance, obesity risk, and subjective well-being.