Background: The canine heartworm Dirofilaria immitis, a filarioid nematode of dogs and other carnivores, is widespread in the USA and the world. Over 20 different mosquito species serve as intermediate hosts of D. immitis, but their contribution to transmission varies according to factors like host feeding patterns, geographic locations and climatic conditions. The yellow fever mosquito, Aedes aegypti, is a competent vector of D. immitis but is often dismissed as a vector of veterinary relevance given its anthropophilic feeding behavior. We evaluated the prevalence of D. immitis in pet dogs along the USA-Mexico border and assessed whether Ae. aegypti in the area are naturally infected with heartworm and are potentially acting as a vector.
Methods: A total of 200 whole blood samples collected from pet dogs in the Lower Rio Grande Valley in south Texas from 2016 to 2019 were included in this study. Canine serum samples for D. immitis were tested using the DiroCHEK® Canine Heartworm Antigen Test Kit pre- and post-immune complex dissociations (ICD) and blood samples were tested using high-resolution melt (HRM) quantitative PCR (qPCR) and a probe-based qPCR. Additionally, mosquito specimens were collected and identified, and Ae. aegypti heads, abdomens and pools were tested using conventional PCR (cPCR) and HRM qPCR.
Results: Overall, heartworm prevalence in dogs aged > 6 months was 40.8% (64/157) when the results from all testing modalities were considered. Heartworm antigen was detected in 33.5% and 40.7% of the dogs using DiroCHEK® pre- and post-ICD, respectively. By molecular screening, 20.1% of dogs tested positive with probe-based qPCR, while only one tested positive with HRM qPCR. Of the Ae. aegypti abdomens from blood-fed Ae. aeygpti tested, 20 (21.7%) from mosquitoes that fed on dogs and four (7%) from those that fed on humans tested positive for heartworm. Among Ae. aegypti heads from blood-fed Ae. aeygpti, two (1.1%) were positive based on cPCR and four (2.5%) were positive based on HRM qPCR. No D. immitis DNA was detected in the 208 pools of whole bodies (358 individuals) of Ae. aegypti gravid females.
Conclusions: Our study highlights a high prevalence of heartworm in dogs in south Texas and provides evidence that Ae. aegypti could be contributing to heartworm transmission in canine populations in this region.
Keywords: Antigen-testing; Dirofilariasis; Mosquito; Real-time PCR; Vector-borne disease.
© 2022. The Author(s).