Humans aren't the only ones suffering from drug shortages this year. A widely used medication used to treat heartworm in dogs is currently unavailable and some shelters, mostly in the Southern US, say they may have to consider euthanizing dogs that become extremely ill. And Merial, the Sanofi animal health unit that makes Immiticide, may not be able to resume supplies for months.
"Right now, I have over 20 animals waiting for heartworm treatment because I can’t get the medication. And that’s not counting dogs we haven’t been able to test yet," Marsha Williams, director of the Guilford County Animal Shelter in Greensboro, North Carolina, tells us. "It's devastating...If we know we can’t treat them and there's no alternatieve, we have no choice but to put them down."
Heartworm is a potentially fatal condition caused by parasitic worms living in the arteries of the lungs and occasionally in the right side of the heart of dogs, cats and other animals. The malady can be prevented by using medication, but Sanofi's Immiticide is the only FDA-approved drug that has been available to treat the disease, which can take weeks to help dogs recover. An older drug called caparsolate sodium is not currently made or sold in the US.
Earlier this month, Merial sent letters to veteranarians to say there was a shortage and asked for help conserving supplies by treating only the most severe cases. But this caused a run and now Merial is reportedly out of stock (read here). A Merial spokeswoman did not respond to messages, but a source familiar with the situation says supplies may not resume for 90 days or more.
The problem is not as worrisome in all parts of the country, though, according to Gordon Peddle, a veterinary cardiologist at Animal Emergency and Referral Associates in Fairfield, New Jersey. That's because heartworm occurs more often in regions where mosquitoes breed, notably the South and Southeast (look at the map). "It's not as prevalent here, which is why the shortage is less of a problem," he tells us.
This is not the first time that Merial has run into production problems with Immiticide. A shortage arose early last year due to unspecified manufacturing issues. Nonetheless, the prospect of an indefinite shortage does not bode well for dogs. As Williams notes, "who knows how many may have to be put down."
photo thx to tipiro on Flickr creative commons