INTRODUCTION – Heartworm disease is a vector borne disease transmitted through mosquitoes, that can result in severe lung disease, heart failure, other organ damage and death in pets, mainly dogs, cats and ferrets. It is caused by a parasitic worm called Dirofilaria Immitis. Symptoms of heartworm disease in animals may include a mild persistent cough, lethargy, decreased appetite, exercise intolerance, fatigue and weight loss. It is an emerging disease in India and usually goes unnoticed because of its long incubation period and remains undetected due to inefficient diagnostic tools available. There is lesser understanding about this disease because of its non-native origin.
CASE DESCRIPTION – The patient needed a blood transfusion. Blood samples of 1 recipient and 3 donors were received for blood crossmatch test. (Comprehensive Blood Count) CBC test was performed for both donors and recipient. As per VetSERV protocol, 100% samples coming for CBC undergo a blood smear examination and it was during this examination under the microscope that microfilaria was found in one of the donor samples. Since we have an R&D team, the sample was sent to them to do a PCR test which came as positive for Heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis).
Post this finding we asked for the history of the donor and found out that there was a history of chronic respiratory problem which was unresolved for a long time. The patient was being treated for symptoms like cough which would give temporary relief due to symptomatic treatment but the cough would come back again as the main underlying cause was not diagnosed till date. General respiratory issues were suspected initially and other tests for heart problems, fungal infections, and sinusitis were conducted without any conclusion.
Heartworm once discovered was the primary cause of the patient’s persistent cough as it affects the
oxygen supply and results in a dry cough. Now the patient is being treated for Heartworm disease and has a better chance of survival.
CONCLUSION – Awareness of non-native diseases is important and Heartworm disease is an emerging disease in India due to the ease of Trans-boundary travel of pets. It is usually not suspected in patients in our country and thus not diagnosed. It is critical to get an in-depth history of the patient and also to have the right diagnostic tools available.
Dr. Nidhi Samania- a veterinary microbiologist with 11 years of experience in animal diagnostics motivated by her belief that diagnostics are critical for reducing animal suffering. Co-founded VetSERV – which offers innovative diagnostic services – some for the first time in India – for companion animals.