Heartworm in Kids: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Heartworm in Kids

Heartworm infection is a severe health risk that affects children and causes heartworm in kids. People who have lived, been to places, or are still living in areas that are swamped with mosquitoes must surely understand that these flying creatures are not only pesky and naturally cause inconveniences.

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They also threaten the health and well-being of our pets, children, as well as ours. Heartworm disease is an infection that is difficult to treat and could develop into complications, which can be life-threatening; thus, prevention is the best remedy for heartworm.

This condition can be transmitted by mosquitoes to our pets, specifically our dogs and cats, and once your pet or one of your pets gets infected, you and your loved ones at risk of getting infected as well.

Kids are at a much higher risk of getting infected. In this articles, our primary focus will be heartworm in kids.

What are heartworms?

The causative agent of the heartworm infection is a parasitic worm known as Dirofilaria Immitis. These parasitic organisms are widely recognized as heartworms.

The parasitic worms are found in the blood vessels that are linked to the heart and lungs. Their larvae grow and spend their adult life there.

At this location, they feed, breed, and block the major blood vessels in the body. And they breed laying microscopic larvae known as microfilariae, which transport through the bloodstream where mosquitoes feeding on the blood of the infected pet can easily pick them up and deposit them on another while feeding on its blood.

This might sound to you like an infection that only affects animals but sadly, humans can get infected too. It is best to seek treatment if you suspect or feel any symptoms suggesting that you, your pet, your child, or anyone may have it.

Causes of heartworms in kids

The transmission of this condition isn’t possible through bodily fluids. For instance, your infected cat or dog cannot get you infected through bodily fluids nor direct contact. However, People and animals can get infected only through mosquito bites.

The parasitic worms are found in the arteries that are connected to the heart and lungs of the host, and their larvae grow and spend their adult life there. At this location, they feed, breed, and block the major arteries in the body.

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And when they breed, they lay microscopic larvae known as microfilariae, which is transported through the bloodstream where mosquitoes feeding on the blood of the infected pet can easily pick them up and deposit them on another while feeding on its blood.

If you suspect that your child may have this condition, then it could be that a mosquito bearing heartworm larvae bit him or her.

Symptoms of heartworm in kids

Most people usually are asymptomatic to this infection because the heartworms most times die before maturing in human hosts, thereby making humans show no symptoms.

Still, some individuals may experience slight or moderate symptoms of heartworm infection. However, the signs in animals and humans are not the same simply because the life cycle of Dirofilaria Immitis is not completed in human hosts.

The obvious symptoms of heartworms in kids include;

  • Abnormal cough
  • Coughing out blood
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Pleural effusion – Fluid build-ups around your lungs

Diagnosis

Heartworm infection is mostly asymptomatic, and you may not notice that your kids have the condition until they go through clinical testing to confirm if they have the parasitic organism in their system.

Your doctor may have them go through X-ray, and if a coin lesion is seen close to the edge of the lung, then it is possible that there is heartworm in your kid.

Again your doctor may also decide to have your child go through Computed Tomography (CT) imaging tests if X-rays test is not used. Using a CT scan, the granulomas may appear as dark spots.

However, in humans, these parasitic worms do not get to grow into adult worms because the human system develops inflammation, which is the immune system’s response to the foreign bodies by causing immune cells to build up and combat the heartworms.

Fortunately, they succeed in killing them before they develop into adult worms, most times. The build-up of immune cells is called Histiocytes.

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In diagnosing this condition, your doctor might have to conduct a biopsy on your kids, which is like obtaining a tissue sample from the lung to diagnose for heartworm disease. If one lesion is detected on the imaging test conducted, then it is a clear indication that your child is affected by heartworm.

This test is carried out by your doctor to cancel out other potential causes of the condition, narrowing it down to what it is. However, a coin of the lesion could be an indication of lung cancer, bacterial infection, or tuberculosis, but this is on rare occasions.

Treatment

Heartworms usually die before they mature into adults in human hosts; therefore, no medications or surgery are needed in the treatment of heartworm in kids and adults in general.

However, humans may seem to feel discomfort over time as the dead heartworm tissues may build up and try clogging your blood vessels that would be when you need treatment.

On an imaging test such as an x-ray or a CT scan, the granulomas build-up may be captured confirming the condition and treatment may be administered by the physician.

If this is a lesion is not making your kid experience any symptoms or clogging and blockage in the blood vessels, then you may not require any more treatment.

You may even live with granulomas so as long as it is not causing any form of discomfort, symptoms, and blockage in the blood vessels.

However, once your physicians suspect that they could be cancerous or maybe as a result of another severe health condition, then they might just conduct a biopsy on you.

In carrying out a biopsy, your doctor is likely to adopt one of the following methods:

  • Lung Needle Biopsy: This method involves having your doctor have a thin needle inserted into your lungs through your lungs.
  • Bronchoscopy: Using this method, your physician inserts a lighted scope into your lungs for diagnostic examination through your mouth.
  • Mediastinoscopy: Using this method, your doctor will leave a lighted scope inserted into the mediastinum can area between the lungs through an incision made by the doctor on your skin.

After this diagnosis, if the granuloma is found to be cancerous, then your doctor will refer you to an oncologist for further examination to detect and confirm cancer on any of your bodily tissues. Your doctor might recommend that you go for surgery to have the granuloma removed.

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Prevention

Treating heartworm in kids can be quite tricky. You should prevent this condition as heartworm diseases are very preventable. It is essential that you strictly adhere to the following tips in preventing heartworm in kids.

The following are preventives measures to adopt to protect your family, friends, and kids around:

  • Have your kids wash their hands with soap and water after direct contact with your pets or animal
  • Isolate suspected and confirmed infected cases
  • Always pack up your pet’s waste from your yard or litter boxes
  • Get your pets tested for parasites at least once or twice a year by a veterinarian
  • Never forget to administer a year-round preventive medication to manage and control internal parasites that pose as a threat to your pet and loved ones
  • Never allow your kids to put dirt in their mouths or even put their unwashed hands in their mouths
  • Always cover sandboxes that you have at home to protect them from fecal contamination
  • Prevent mosquito bites by sleeping under a treated mosquito net, covering up your bodies during night-time, getting rid of any stagnant water around, environmental sanitation, and using a pet-friendly insecticide in your homes to chase mosquitoes away.

For the pets, preventive treatment is administered to puppies when they are 6 or 8 weeks old. This preventive treatment is also applied to older dogs after they have been tested to ascertain whether they are already infected or not.

And if your dog tests positive to heartworm, then you will have to talk to your veterinarian on the available treatment options. Moreover, if your dog is up to or more than six months, a blood test is should be conducted before the commencement of medications.

Conclusion

Your kids, like every human, can get infected from bites from mosquitoes carrying some microfilariae. Most heartworms are microfilariae, and they do not live long since they die while they go through the skin.

But when the living ones successfully get into the bloodstreams, they do not mature into adults because the human immune response to heartworms causes them to die before becoming adult worms.

In human hosts, they are not much of a threat unless they make the individual feel discomfort, pain, and other troubling symptoms. Heartworms in kids and humans, in general, is rather a rare health condition.

Have you ever had to treat heartworm in your child before? What methods or steps did you take? Kindly share with us in the comment section below.

Oluwafemi Michael
Oluwafemi Michael is an online Mental Health Therapist, Advocate for Mental Health Awareness, a programmer, and also a content creator from Edo state, Akoko-Edo LG.