Heartworm infection continues its climb, survey reports

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Feb 01, 2006


Veterinary outlays on rapid rise
ORLANDO — A recently released survey documents that 250,000 dogs and cats tested positive for heartworm infection in 2004.

The epidemiologic survey, as part of a collaborative project between the American Heartworm Society (AHS) and Merial, reveals that the documented numbers of dogs and cats testing positive is also up slightly from a previous survey conducted in 2001.

In addition, 29 states and the District of Columbia posted increases in heartworm positive dogs when compared to 2001 survey results. Another 17 Midwest states showed declines in heartworm-positive cases, but the numbers were theorized to be more of a reflection of drought conditions during the time period than a spike in prevention efforts.

Dr. Tom Nelson, president of the American Heartworm Society, tells DVM Newsmagazine, "When you compare the numbers to 2001; we are not making headway in preventing a disease that is completely preventable."

Even more sobering, the survey, while comprehensive, may also underestimate a more serious problem, Nelson adds.

"Considering lack of compliance and animals that do not receive regular veterinary exams, the number could be more than double what the survey projects," he says.

Consider this: only 5 percent of cats are currently on heartworm preventive, the survey says.

"It's an issue of educating the public, and we need to educate the staffs in veterinary hospitals. We are not doing a good enough of a job."

The 12,000 veterinary clinics surveyed in 50 states and the District of Columbia showed a continued need for educating clients and veterinary staff about the importance of preventing the potentially fatal disease, reports Dr. Doug Carithers, senior director of Veterinary Medical Affairs at Merial.

"An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure," he adds.

A Gallup survey and B&R Tracking reports about 59 percent of dogs in the United States are receiving heartworm preventive, a statistic down from 66 percent in a 1998 survey.

While the Southeast region is always the most problematic area for heartworm infection rates; even California showed increases.

"Clients say they do not want heartworm preventive in part because they are conditioned to pursue vaccines for pets and may not understand the vital role heartworm preventative plays in their healthcare," Nelson adds.

Dr. Zack Mills, executive director of Merial Veterinary Services, says proper education is crucial in stemming the incidences of heartworm.

"Technicians and receptionists often become flustered that clients are unreceptive to their encouragement to provide heartworm preventative for their pet," Nelson says. "But really by the time the veterinarian makes the recommendation, it is the third time the client has been introduced to the idea. That is why it is important to instruct and educate staff why preventative is imperative."

For more information or client materials, visit http://www.heartwormsociety.org/.