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Prevalence of canine heartworm infection in Mississippi animal shelters

Donnett, Uri, Hubbard, Kristina, Woodruff, Kimberly, Varela-Stokes, Andrea
Veterinary parasitology 2018 v.259 pp. 68-73
Dirofilaria immitis, animal rescue shelters, antigen detection, antigens, biotic factors, blood banks, blood sampling, blood serum, body condition, cross-sectional studies, dogs, enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay, guidelines, heartworms, microfilariae, statistics, Mississippi
Understanding diagnosis of heartworm disease in the context of animal shelters’ needs and expectations is crucial for developing guidelines that specifically address the unique shelter population. Accurate and economical heartworm testing strategies are essential. However, current comprehensive guidelines for the management of heartworm disease in dogs are directed toward client-owned animals and do not address needs of animal shelters and other resource-scarce facilities. Additionally, testing recommendations do not take into account regional and local differences in heartworm prevalence across the United States that occur due to abiotic and biotic factors. The objective of this study was to determine the apparent prevalence of Dirofilaria immitis microfilaremia and antigenemia in dogs from Mississippi animal shelters. Further, we compare agreement between microfilaria and antigen testing in this population. We performed a cross-sectional study using canine serum and blood bank samples representative of the Mississippi shelter population. Microfilaria testing of whole blood included a blood smear and modified Knott test. Antigen testing of serum was performed using the DiroCHEK® antigen ELISA test. Analyses included descriptive and analytic statistics as well as Cohen’s kappa for test agreement. A total of 283 whole blood samples and 363 serum samples, representing 363 dogs from 18 shelters in 17 Mississippi counties, were utilized in this study. Sixty-four (22.6%) whole blood samples demonstrated D. immitis microfilariae on the modified Knott test and 125 (34.4%) serum samples had detectable D. immitis antigen. Increasing age and low body condition were associated with antigen-positive test results. Only age was associated with microfilaria-positive test results. There was moderate agreement between the antigen ELISA test and the modified Knott microfilaria test and poor agreement between the antigen ELISA and the blood smear. This study provides the first known report of the prevalence of D. immitis microfilaremia and antigenemia in Mississippi shelter dogs. We observed that prevalence of both microfilaremia and antigenemia was significantly higher in these sampled dogs compared to previous reports for the owned canine population in Mississippi. Heartworm infection presents unique management challenges for animal shelters. Knowledge of the expected prevalence in the area can be utilized for management decisions related to prevention, testing, and treatment of dogs in shelter populations.