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Heartworm drug that lasts 6 months okayed

By EILEEN SCHULTE

© St. Petersburg Times,
published June 8, 2001


In a jar on an exam room counter in Dr. James E. Hughes' animal clinic sits a brown lump laced with pale strands of what looks like spaghetti.

Preserved in formaldehyde, it is the heart of a 40-pound mixed-breed dog that dropped dead of heartworms 20 years ago while its owner was doing laundry.

Hughes keeps the heart on display at his All Creatures clinic in Palm Harbor to shock his patients' owners into the reality of heartworms: They can kill.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration approved a treatment aimed at preventing such deaths. While current heartworm treatments must be given daily or monthly, the new drug, ProHeart 6, lasts for six months.

ProHeart 6, the first injectable heartworm drug for dogs, is made by Fort Dodge Animal Health, Fort Dodge, Iowa. It was approved for use in dogs 6 months or older.

Tampa Bay area veterinarians welcomed the news of the drug's approval, but want to know more.

Dr. Michael Eldridge of Animal Medical Hospital in St. Petersburg said he likes the idea of a twice-a-year dose -- especially for his busiest dog owners.

"There's a place for a product like this if it's effective," he said. "We have clients who are forgetful and come in six months or a year behind (preventive treatment). You can tell it's hit and miss."

Still, he wants to evaluate the treatment for a while before endorsing it.

"The whole question is, how good is it? I haven't read anything about how it works," Eldridge said.

Dr. John Hodges, a veterinarian at Noah's Place in St. Petersburg, said if ProHeart 6 is safe, he doesn't see why he wouldn't use it.

"You'd have to look at it. Just because it's new doesn't mean it's better. Our real concern is the patients that come in here -- not what the drug company says."

Steve Hoffman, marketing manager for Fort Dodge Animal Health, said in a statement that ProHeart 6 was shown to be effective and safe in clinical trials.

"ProHeart 6 is an extremely valuable new tool for veterinarians and America's 53-million dogs, as they annually combat deadly canine heartworm disease," he said. "ProHeart 6 represents a dramatically different approach from any other heartworm preventative for dogs on the market today."

Dogs get the heartworm parasite from mosquitoes. Eldridge said on average, he treats one case of heartworms per month, and none of the dogs he has treated has died in the last year. The malady is common in Florida and other coastal areas, where mosquitoes are plentiful.

Current preventative treatments consisting of pills or a topical compound cost $10 to $12 per month. It is unclear how much ProHeart 6 would cost, local veterinarians said. Representatives of the drug's maker couldn't be reached late Thursday.

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