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Parasites don’t care that there’s a pandemic. A new alert system may help counter infections

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COVID-19 has infiltrated every aspect of daily life, so it’s difficult to not get caught up in the maelstrom of the pandemic’s effects. But the usual threats of parasite-borne diseases still loom large for pets.

And the Companion Animal Parasite Council (CAPC) wants to remind you to be on alert.

When the CAPC released its annual 2020 national parasite forecast back in April, most hospitals were still busy adjusting to curbside, and may have missed the prediction that cases of heartworm would be higher than average this year, especially along the Atlantic coast and Mississippi River, or their forecast that Lyme disease would continue making inroads in the upper Midwest.

The CAPC has been creating forecast maps since 2012, but they set a much broader goal for communication—within the profession and with pet owners—by establishing Pet Disease Alerts.

The public charity kicked off by launching the game-changing 30-Day Parasite Forecast Maps that allow veterinarians to monitor local parasite activity throughout the year by providing a monthly forecast for every county in the continental United States.

This year, Pet Disease Alerts has introduced another tool that could be equally groundbreaking: a nonprofit service that sends text/email alerts about bacterial and viral threats to anyone—pet owner or professional—who signs up. They’re currently sending alerts about confirmed county-level cases of leptospirosis.

The service will add alerts for other bacterial and viral diseases, including canine influenza, this fall.

Craig Prior, BVSc, CVJ, a CAPC board member, told NEWStat that the alerts are “an engagement strategy.”

“It’s a way to help veterinarians to engage their clients,” he said. “If they sign up for our alerts, [and] there’s a positive test in their county for lepto, then they can use their social media to say ‘Hey, we’ve had some positive tests here. Let’s have a conversation about how we can protect your pet. We recommend lepto vaccines as part of our core vaccines.’”

The cost for the service? A $5 donation per year. You can sign up for information from up to three counties and get the alerts via text or email.

NEWStat asked Prior how accurate the forecasts and alerts are.

The answer: 94–98% accurate. “I can tell you what’s going to happen in the next 30 days in your county,” Prior said.

NEWStat also talked to Emilio DeBess, DVM, MPVM, the State Veterinarian of Oregon, and current president of CAPC. He stressed the dangers of pandemic distraction: “We need to remember that animals are going to [contract] parasites and infectious diseases regardless of what’s going on with COVID-19 or any other pandemic,” he said.

DeBess called the maps and the alerts “a way of helping hospitals know what’s showing up in their area, and what they need to pay attention to.”

Photo credit: © Laura Esterman