First case of macrocyclic lactone-resistant Dirofilaria immitis in Europe - Cause for concern

Int J Parasitol Drugs Drug Resist. 2024 May 21:25:100549. doi: 10.1016/j.ijpddr.2024.100549. Online ahead of print.


Heartworm disease caused by the nematode Dirofilaria immitis is one of the most important parasitoses of dogs. The treatment of the infection is long, complicated, risky and expensive. Conversely, prevention is easy, safe, and effective and it is achieved by the administration of macrocyclic lactones (MLs). In recent years, D. immitis strains resistant to MLs have been described in Southern USA, raising concerns for possible emergence, or spreading in other areas of the world. The present study describes the first case of ML-resistant D. immitis in a dog in Europe. The dog arrived in Rome, Italy, from USA in 2023. Less than 6 months after its arrival in Italy, the dog tested positive for D. immitis circulating antigen and microfilariae, despite it having received monthly the ML milbemycin oxime (plus an isoxazoline) after arrival. The microfilariae suppression test suggested a resistant strain. Microfilariae DNA was examined by droplet digital PCR-based duplex assays targeting four marker positions at single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP1, SNP2, SNP3, SNP7) which differentiate resistant from susceptible isolates. The genetic analysis showed that microfilariae had a ML-resistant genotype at SNP1 and SNP7 positions, compatible with a resistant strain. It is unlikely that the dog acquired the infection after its arrival in Europe, while it is biologically and epidemiologically plausible that the dog was already infected when imported from USA to Europe. The present report highlights the realistic risk of ML-resistant D. immitis strains being imported and possibly transmitted in Europe and other areas of the world. Monitoring dogs travelling from one area to another, especially if they originate from regions where ML-resistance is well-documented, is imperative. Scientists, practitioners, and pet owners should be aware of the risk and remain vigilant against ML-resistance, in order to monitor and reduce the spreading of resistant D. immitis.

Keywords: Dirofilaria immitis; Drug resistance; Europe; Heartworm; Macrocyclic lactones; SNP genotyping; ddPCR.