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Veterinary Public Health


Pet Health Calendar
Contact Information
Veterinary Public Health Program
313 N Figueroa St. Rm 1127
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel (213) 989-7060
Tel: (877) 747-2243
Fax (213) 481-2375
vet@ph.lacounty.gov
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Heartworm Disease in Animals in Los Angeles County

What is heartworm disease?
It is an infection in animals caused by a worm called Dirofilaria immitis. This worm is spread by mosquito bites. The adult worms live in the heart and large blood vessels in the chest. Dogs, cats, ferrets, wolves, coyotes, seals, and sea lions can all become infected. The disease does NOT spread directly from animal-to-animal.  Infected animals are reservoirs for the disease.

What are the symptoms of heartworm disease?
Infected animals may have tiredness, problems breathing, coughing, and heart failure. Infected cats may breathe hard and be more likely to vomit. Infection can be present for a while in the pet before symptoms appear.

How do you know if your pet is infected with heartworms? The only way to know is by having a blood test for heartworms performed at a veterinary hospital.

What is the treatment for heartworm infection?
Veterinarians treat infected pets by giving medication to kill the worms in the bloodstream. As the worms die, there is a risk of the pet having a bad reaction to the dead worms. Therefore, heartworm disease is treated only under the close supervision of a veterinarian.

Is there any heartworm disease in Los Angeles County?
Yes. Between 2005-2014, veterinarians in Los Angeles County reported 187 cases - in 15 cats and 172 dogs.
 The majority of the cases (74%) had no symptoms at the time it was diagnosed.

 

In 32% of these cases, the pet had not traveled outside of Southern California, so it has acquired the infection locally. The graph seen upper right shows these cases by year.  

How Can I Prevent Heartworm in My Pet?

1. Mosquito Control. Mosquitoes breed in stagnant water. Stop mosquito breeding by dumping any standing water on your property every 2 days. Mosquitoes feed the most at dawn, dusk and at night, so keep your pet indoors at night. 

2. Heartworm Preventative Medication. Heartworm preventative medications are generally regarded as safe and help prevent infection with additional parasites. Discuss the issue with your pet’s veterinarian.

Untreated animals
In 15% of the 100 cases in Los Angeles County, the animal was not treated. Untreated animals may become  "reservoirs" for the disease. This means they can infect mosquitoes, and then the mosquitoes can infect more pets. Infected coyotes can be reservoirs for the disease.

Can humans catch heartworm? 
Humans can potentially get infected if they are bitten by a mosquito that is carrying the worm. However human infections with Dirofilaria immitis are very rare.  In most cases, the person has no symptoms, but small shadows ("coin lesions") may be seen inside the lungs on a chest X-ray.  No cases of human heartworm infection have been reported in our county.  See articles in blue box below for more information.

Tracking Heartworm in LA County
Heartworm in animals is reportable in Los Angeles County. The reports help track trends in this disease. In 2014, laboratories were required to begin reporting cases, and the reports available increased. Cases are categorized as Confirmed, Probable, or Suspected based on the Heartworm Case Definition for LA County. Of the 187 cases reported between 2005-2014, 53% were Confirmed, 41% were Probable, and 6% were Suspected.

Reporting Heartworm Cases
VETERINARIANS: Report a case of heartworm disease by using this form or by using the online reporting portal.

Invasive Aedes mosquitoes in Los Angeles (LA) County

grpah heartworm cases in Los Angeles County

2005-2014 heartworm map Los Angeles Coounty

MORE INFORMATION

American Heartworm Society (find "Pet Owner Resources" at bottom of page)

SCIENTIFIC ARTICLES

Heartworm in California Coyotes
2004 - Modeling Distribution of Canine Heartworm, in California Coyotes pdf icon
2003 - Spread of Dirofilaria immitis in California Coyotes

Heartworm Infection in Humans
2010 - Public Health Issues Concerning Widespread Canine Heartworm Disease
2005 - Public Health Aspects of Dirofilariasis in the United States
2002 - Human Dirofilariasis: Uncommon Cause of  Pulmonary Coin-lesion
2001 - Heartworm in a 28 year-old-man in California pdf icon

Last updated: February 4, 2016
 
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