Faculty Fanfare: Martina Laidemitt


UNM biology adjunct associate professor Martina Laidemitt is the lead author on a journal article that reveals the presence of compatible snail hosts to the pathogenic parasitic flatworm, Heterobilharzia americana in New Mexico – outside its normal habitat and on a new host.


The parasite, H. americana, regularly infects dogs, horses, and raccoons, and historically has been found in the southeastern United States and transmitted by Galba cubensis. But recent research by Laidemitt found that the parasitic flatworm was compatible with a new snail, Galba humilis in Utah.


So Laidemitt,  the lead author, and co-author Eric S. Loker, a distinguished professor emeritus of biology at UNM, set out to see if snails in New Mexico might also be hosting the parasite.


“We found that experimentally, H. americana successfully infected a population of G. humilis from a suburb of the Albuquerque area, one that is frequented by domestic animals and wildlife,” she said. “Additionally, and surprisingly we found that H. americana successfully infected a population of Galba schirazensis collected from northern New Mexico.” 


Laidemitt said this is the first report of the latter snail species being compatible with H. americana, which will further complicate control measures of H. americana. The invasive snail species has been found in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. 


The article, Vector compatibility of New Mexico Galba species with the canine schistosome Heterobilharzia americana, including the first report of Galba schirazensis as a compatible host, was published in the The Journal of Parasitology.


She said her research team recently was contacted by veterinarians at Texas A&M who are getting positive samples of the parasitic flatworm originating from New Mexico dogs. 


Laidemitt said she’s concerned about the possibility of more dogs becoming infected with the parasite in New Mexico.


“This is not a parasite that will be easily controlled given the dispersed nature of its snail host and an increasingly urbanized and ubiquitous definitive host, the raccoon,” she said.


Dogs who are exposed to the parasite can experience vomiting, weight loss, lethargy and dermatitis, among other things.


“This work is important because it is not always on veterinarians’ radar because its historical occurrence has not been in the western USA,” she said. “However, recent outbreaks in CA, UT, and TX have resulted in the deaths of dogs. The acquisition of new snail hosts and the dissemination of raccoons has allowed this parasite to spread.”


“We hope going forward there is increased awareness of veterinarians and increased surveillance of this highly pathogenic parasitic flatworm in the western USA, including New Mexico,” Laidemitt said.