Heartworm, scientifically known as Dirofilaria immitis, is a parasitic roundworm that is now considered as a global pest that primarily affects dogs and cats. Prevalence of heartworm exists in every continent except Antartic and Arctic regions.
Microfilariae are the infectious particles of the nematode that are present in the salivary glands of a mosquito and are transmitted from organism to organism during mosquito bites. Around 70 different species of mosquitoes are known to act as stable vectors for this disease. Mosquitoes provide the ideal body temperature required for the growth of microfilariae. Infection starts when these microfilariae enter the blood stream and mature. Adult heartworms reside inside the compartments of the heart and large blood vessels inside lungs. There are five distinct larval stages in the life cycle of heartworm.
Symptoms of this disease appear only when the disease has reached an advanced stage. Symptoms at this stage include dyspnea, coughing, enlarged abdomen and inflammation in the lungs, restricted blood flow, syncape, dizziness, loss of appetite, hepatomegaly and abnormal lung sounds. When the disease is left unattended, it can result in death within 72 hrs due to congestive heart failure.
Diagnosis of the disease is done using different types of blood tests. Some tests such as filter test and Knotts test look for the presence of microfilaria inside the blood sample. Occult test locates the presence of adult heartworms in the heart. Another type of diagnostic test is done for detecting the presence of heartworm specific antigens. Third type of diagnostic test is aimed at detecting the presence of antibodies to the larval stage of heartworm.
Treatment of heartworms is effective only when the disease is detected early. There are several drugs available in the market for treating heartworms. Most important of these include Immiticide, Ivermectin and Caparsolate. Some other important preventive drugs for heartworm infection include Moxidectin, Milbmycin and Selamectin. However, all these drugs are powerful chemical combinations that are highly toxic to the animal as well as the parasite and must be administered with utmost precaution. Another useful treatment option is surgical removal in advanced cases where substantial numbers of adult heartworms have infested the heart.
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