Vector-borne diseases are illnesses that are transmitted by vectors, which include fleas, ticks and mosquitoes.These vectors can carry germs such as viruses, bacteria and protozoa. The sickness caused by these vectors are some of the most important diseases known, like Zika virus, Malaria, West Nile Virus and Lyme Disease. And certainly when there is an outbreak of a vector-borne disease or when the human cases are increasing, there are plenty of news media stories and CDC announcements to let us know.
The two most significant vector-borne diseases we see in pets in this area are Heartworms and Lyme Disease. There were 70 dogs that tested positive for Lyme in 2019 at our veterinary hospital. We see a case of Heartworms every month or two. Most of our clients know that Lyme is spread by ticks and many say that they know of someone who had Lyme or is suffering from its affects. Heartworms is spread by mosquitoes and is arguably the most important canine disease. I say that because the heartworms can cause the most damage to the patient. And cases of Heartworms have increased by 21% since 2013 even though effective and easily administered preventives are readily available.
80% of dogs that tested positive for Lyme Disease at our clinic last year were clinically healthy. The other 20% came in sick with signs of fever, limping, lethargy and swollen lymph nodes. They all responded to medical therapy and recovered. We have seen no lasting affects of Lyme in dogs who have recovered but scientific investigations are ongoing on this disease. For example, can we say that we ever completely rid the body of the Lyme bacterium, or can it hide in the lymph nodes long term and cause damage to be detected later?
In our feline population in southeast Indiana the vector-borne diseases are fewer than in dogs but the potential is there. Cats can get heartworms from mosquitoes just like dogs, but the infection rate is lower. Cat Scratch Fever in humans is related to a bacterium found in flea dirt. This is a good reason to keep your kitties free of fleas. There are good preventives for heartworms and fleas in a monthly topical application.
The concept of One Health (human, animal and environment) is especially evident concerning vector-borne diseases. Many are common to animals and man, such as most of the tick diseases and West Nile. The environment comes into play when average temperatures rise and vectors become more common, increasing the likelihood of disease spread. In our corner of the world preventing fleas, ticks and heartworms is more important than ever to the health of our pets.