Heartworm disease most often affects dogs and cats, but in rare cases it can also be spread to humans and cause some bothersome symptoms.
What is Heartworm?
Heartworm is a parasite that is transmitted through insect bites mainly from mosquitoes, and sometimes fleas, ticks, lice and flies. When an infected insect bites a human, the larvae often die, but occasionally they can survive and settle into organs, most often the lungs. When they eventually die this can lead to lesions, nodes or granulomas.
When the worms die off and leave these lesions, this is a condition known as human pulmonary dirofilariasis (HPD). Many people who have HPD experience no symptoms at all, and only find out they have the condition when they receive a chest X-ray for something else. But, some people will develop some symptoms.
With HPD, a person may experience a persistent cough and may have some chest pain. These symptoms are akin to those for other conditions such as cancer or tuberculosis, and anyone with a chronic cough or chest pain should visit their doctor. An HPD sufferer may also experience a mild fever and unexplained fatigue.
If lesions from HPD show up on a chest X-ray, more testing is required to rule out other conditions. An excision and biopsy are performed to determine if it is HPD.
HPD is a very rare condition, and in recent decades the medical and veterinary communities have made great strides in prevention and detection. No humans have died from this condition.