I read a press release today entitled "New Parasite Infection Killing Pet Dogs in Southern England". It’s about the lungworm Angiostrongylus vasorum. The main reservoir for this parasite in England is the common red fox. Slugs and snails are involved in transmission of the worm as well. Infection of dogs most likely occurs through ingestion of the parasite from contaminated water or other environmental sources. The press release mentions a study that was released last year which reported an increase in the parasite in wild foxes. It mentions (without providing any data) that infections are occurring regularly dogs in some regions. This may well be true but brings to mind an important point I mentioned the other day (among others): know the source of information you are reading. I know I’m being a bit cynical, and it’s possible that they have the well being of pets in mind, but the press release is from an online veterinary pharmacy, a company that obviously benefits from increased treatment of pets with dewormers.
This is made clear by their statement "Luckily there are a number of medicines available that can provide real and lasting protection from this nasty parasite. At www.vetscriptions.co.uk we recommend that all dog owners make it their business to find out about this disease and make sure that their dogs are fully protected."
Is lungworm a real and increasing threat in the UK? It’s certainly possible. I don’t dismiss the possibility at all.
Would I get concerned about it at this point? No. I’d look for objective information and ask my vet if there are any concerns in my particular area. Like the press release says, people should "make it their business to find out about this disease."
So what does this tell me? It reminds me that there are a lot of potential infectious disease threats out there that I need to pay attention to, but there are also a lot of people trying to make money at the same time. It could be that this company is being benevolent and honestly trying to make sure that pet owners are aware of the risks of lungworm. It’s also possible they are taking advantage of a marginally relevant problem. Information like this is good for raising some questions, but getting advice from a non-biased source is critical.