Factors influencing U.S. canine heartworm (Dirofilaria immitis) prevalence

by CAPC Vet
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Background: This paper examines the individual factors that influence prevalence rates of canine heartworm in the contiguous United States. A data set provided by the Companion Animal Parasite Council, which contains county-by-county results of over nine million heartworm tests conducted during 2011 and 2012, is analyzed for predictive structure. The goal is to identify the factors that are important in predicting high canine heartworm prevalence rates.

Methods: The factors considered in this study are those envisioned to impact whether a dog is likely to have heartworm. The factors include climate conditions (annual temperature, precipitation, and relative humidity), socio-economic conditions (population density, household income), local topography (surface water and forestation coverage, elevation), and vector presence (several mosquito species). A baseline heartworm prevalence map is constructed using estimated proportions of positive tests in each county of the United States. A smoothing algorithm is employed to remove localized small-scale variation and highlight large-scale structures of the prevalence rates. Logistic regression is used to identify significant factors for predicting heartworm prevalence.

Results: All of the examined factors have power in predicting heartworm prevalence, including median household income, annual temperature, county elevation, and presence of the mosquitoes Aedes trivittatus, Aedes sierrensis and Culex quinquefasciatus. Interactions among factors also exist.

Conclusions: The factors identified are significant in predicting heartworm prevalence. The factor list is likely incomplete due to data deficiencies. For example, coyotes and feral dogs are known reservoirs of heartworm infection. Unfortunately, no complete data of their populations were available. The regression model considered is currently being explored to forecast future values of heartworm prevalence.

Keywords: Canine heartworm, Dirofilaria immitis, Head-banging smoothing, Mosquito vectors, Prevalence rates


Dongmei Wang1, Dwight D Bowman2, Heidi E Brown3, Laura C Harrington4, Phillip E Kaufman5, Tanja McKay6, Charles Thomas Nelson7, Julia L Sharp1* and Robert Lund1


Wang et al. Parasites & Vectors 2014, 7:264