Dirofilaria immitis is a filarial nematode parasite that is currently widely enzootic in dog and coyote (Canis latrans) populations of California. Weak historical evidence suggests that the initial focus of D. immitis in California occurred 3 decades ago in the Sierra Nevada foothills (SNF) and spread to other parts of California thereafter. However, this hypothesis is difficult to evaluate because of the lack of epidemiological studies on heartworm in California before 1970. We investigated this hypothesis by comparing D. immitis prevalence in coyotes between initial (1975–1985) and current (2000–2002) surveys in the SNF and 2 coastal regions. In the SNF, prevalence of heartworm was not significantly different between initial (35%, n = 169) and current (42%, n = 60) surveys (P = 0.17), suggesting the existence of a stable enzootic focus in the initial survey period. In contrast, current prevalence was 4 times higher than initial prevalence in the northern Coast Range foothills (44 vs. 10%; n = 119, 107; P < 0.001) and in the south San Francisco Bay foothills (32 vs. 8%; n = 31, 59; P = 0.005), suggesting that initial surveys were made during the early stages of colonization. Dirofilaria immitis prevalence, intensity, and abundance was similar in a coastal location in Mendocino County between 1994–1996 and 1999–2002, suggesting some degree of stability in this enzootic focus. Collectively, these findings support the hypothesis that D. immitis established itself initially in California coyotes living in the SNF and subsequently expanded its range of enzootic foci in central California.

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