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Friday, September 23, 2011

US Parasite Prevalence

I attended a lecture on parasite prevention this week and was directed to the Companion Animal Parasite Council web site.  This is an organization here in the US that was developed to bridge the gap between veterinarians and physicians with regards to parasitic diseases in pets.  The group also seeks to educate pet owners on the parasites and disorders that can happen in pets, several of which are transmittable to humans.

Now all of that is good, but not revolutionary.  What grabbed my attention was an interactive map they have which shows county-by-county incidence of various diseases in the us. I would highly recommend all US vets and pet owners check it out if you aren't familiar with it.  The map shows the rates of various tick-borne diseases (lyme, ehrlichia, anaplasma), heartworm disease, and intestinal parasites (hookworms, roundworms, whipworms) in dogs and cats (you can view by each species).  And the results can be a bit surprising.

For example, let's look at heartworm disease in my state of Georgia.  In 2010 there were 4647 positive diagnoses in dogs and 367 in cats.  These are pretty high numbers, but we're not the highest in the Southeast (Florida had 1396 in just cats).

And here's the scary part.  All of the numbers on this map are in all likelihood lower than the actual infection rate! The data is compiled from Banfield Pet Hospital (a nation-wide veterinary chain that has extensive computer records), Idexx Laboratories and Antech Laboratories (two large, national veterinary diagnostic labs).  Records come from these sources' databases, as well as data sent in by veterinarians.  However, not all vets will participate in these studies, so there are certainly positive cases that never make it into this data set.  Also, many pets are never tested for these various diseases, so there are certainly positive cases that go undiagnosed.  So when you review the numbers, realize that these are the bare minimum cases, and the actual infection rate is likely a good bit higher!  Realizing how the data is collected puts in perspective the true incident rate.

I've made sheets to post in all of my exam rooms showing the rates in our state and county, to use as a conversation-starter with clients.  If we can make more people aware of these diseases (all of which are considered preventable!), then perhaps we can lower the number of positive cases and improve the health of pets.