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Screwworm outbreak in Florida deer

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Screwworm outbreak in Florida deer

Old 10-04-2016, 11:16 AM
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Default Screwworm outbreak in Florida deer

Screwworm outbreak in Florida deer marks first U.S. invasion of the parasite in 30 years

A full-grown screwworm looks like any other fly. It is an insect small in size, dark, six-legged and compound-eyed. The peculiar horrors of its life cycle, however, could have been cooked up by the likes of David Cronenberg or H.R. Giger. A pregnant screwworm seeks out the bodies of much larger animals, and, upon finding an open wound or other fleshy crevasse, delivers her eggs. When they hatch, the screwworm maggots earn their name, carving corkscrew burrows into the skin to grow fat off their host.

Until the United States managed to eradicate the flies in the late 1960s, they were a devastating agricultural pest. Mentioning the screwworm “sends shivers down every rancher’s spine,” to hear Adam H. Putnam, Florida’s agriculture commissioner, tell it.

But they are back, at least in a corner of Florida. Putnam, speaking in a statement, was the bearer of grim news: A screwworm infection broke out in a population of Florida’s wild Key deer, a subspecies of the far more common white-tailed deer, the federal Agriculture Department’s National Veterinary Services Laboratories confirmed Monday.

It is the first time in three decades the screwworm has infested a group of animals in the United States, and the first time in 50 years the insect appeared in Florida.

“This foreign animal disease poses a grave threat to wildlife, livestock and domestic pets in Florida,” Putnam said. “Though rare, it can even infect humans.”

In the age of mosquito-borne West Nile, malaria and Zika, it should not come as a surprise that invertebrates can be lethal. The New World screwworm is different, however, in that it does not harbor a virus or other deadly microbe within its exoskeleton. The fly itself is the killer.

“Unlike most barnyard flies, its larvae feed on living tissue,” the New York Times wrote in 1977. “They can kill a fully grown steer in 10 days. Last year, they infested and killed an elderly woman in San Antonio who could not get help nor care for herself.”

The New World screwworms infesting the Florida deer were not supposed to be in the United States. In the 1950s, the USDA embarked on an ambitious project to rid the country of the agricultural pest. Its plan was a bit closer to “kill it with fire” than “shoo, fly” — with gamma radiation and X-rays supplying the fire.

The government raised young screwworms by the millions, and bombarded the larvae with gamma and X-rays. Thus rendered infertile, the adult flies were released en masse across the Southeast and West. By the end of the 1950s, a “fly factory” in Sebring, Fla., churned out 50 million sterile flies a week. Unable to find fecund mates, the U.S. screwworm population crashed, first in pockets and then across the country.

By the end of the 1960s, the fly had vanished from the United States. In each subsequent year, the lack of screwworms has saved the livestock industry $900 million, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture estimate.

The Agriculture Department also set its sights southward, helping eliminate the flies in Jamaica, Mexico and parts of Central America. Panama marks the “buffer zone” between the fly zones in South America and the screwworm-free north, Edward B. Knipling, the son of the entomologist who came up with the birth control plan, told NPR in June.

U.S. infections since the eradication effort have been isolated cases, typically the result of traveling abroad. In 2007, for instance, a 12-year-old returned to Connecticut after vacationing with her family in Colombia. She ended up in the emergency room, worried about the extreme pain in her scalp. Using “bacon therapy” — a combination of luring out and smothering the flies with pieces of meat placed over the wounds — plus petroleum jelly, doctors removed 142 screwworm larvae from her head.

Such instances aside, the flies were contained below the buffer zone. Until late 2016.

No livestock or human cases have been reported. But in the island refuge of Florida’s Big Pine Key and No Name Key, three samples taken from Key deer confirmed the screwworm infection. Other deer in the area, as well as a few pets, have shown signs of infection over the past two months, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said in the news release. To curb the further spread of the flies, about 40 of the deer were killed, a wildlife refuge manager told the Associated Press.

Florida announced it will once again release sterile flies, and Putnam was optimistic the flies could be beaten twice.

“We’ve eradicated this from Florida before, and we’ll do it again,” he said. “We will work with our partners on the federal, state and local level to protect our residents, animals and wildlife by eliminating the screwworm from Florida.”

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Old 10-04-2016, 11:47 AM
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Hopefully the tried-and-true method will prevail; since these flies don't have microbes on their side, it's unlikely any mutation will save them.
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Old 10-04-2016, 02:19 PM
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They certainly sound like a nasty little stinker... I really hope the treatment works. It is so dry here this year, I worry about another EHD outbreak or something really hurting the population.
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Old 10-06-2016, 09:37 AM
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" />Here's more on the screwworm outbreak. It is hitting the National Key Deer Refuge hard and deer are not being put down.


State and federal agriculture officials man the animal-health checkpoint at mile marker 106. The inspection station is behind them. This is one of the infected deer. Note the damage to the top of its head; that’s where the maggots were concentrated. State and federal agriculture officials man the animal-health checkpoint at mile marker 106. The inspection station is behind them. This is one of the infected deer. Note the damage to the top of its head; that’s where the maggots were concentrated.

In what looks like a scene from a horror movie, photos of Key deer with heads half-gone show the deadly effects of New World screwworm.

More than 40 of the nearly 1,000 endangered Key deer living at the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key have been euthanized, at least eight of them between Sunday and Monday, due to the presence of the screwworm, said Dan Clark, manager of the National Key Deer Refuge.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service confirmed Tuesday the presence of screwworm at the refuge.

Screwworm flies lay their eggs in the wounds of injured animals, after which the larvae hatch and then feed on the wound as it becomes larger.

“They’re in as gory of a condition as you can imagine,” Clark said of the infected deer. Staff members started seeing more deer with open sores and lesions infested with fly larvae in September. “That made us ask a lot of questions.”

According to the USDA, which declared an “agricultural state of emergency in Monroe County” on Monday, this is the first local infestation of screwworm in the United States in more than 30 years. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam also declared an “agricultural state of emergency in Monroe County” Monday.

Many of the deer are infected beyond rehabilitation, at which point they are put down with a bolt gun, a modified pistol with a spring-loaded steel rod that causes mortality quickly after being discharged into the head of the deer, Clark said.

Clark’s staff members from the National Wildlife Refuges Complex and others from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and Monroe County Sheriff’s Office have been performing the euthanizations, Clark said.

Seeing as how the screwworm fly lays eggs only in the wounds of living animals, carcasses are be deposited in a safe spot away from the public where “nature can take its course,” he said.

Staff members from the Big Pine complex aren’t actively chasing deer, but may encounter an infected deer while performing population surveys or receive a call from someone who sees an injured deer. After the deer is put down, the maggots are removed from the carcass.

Humans can be infected the same way the flies infect animals, according to Clark and area veterinarians. How the fly arrived on Big Pine Key has yet to be determined by the USDA and other agencies.

The screwworm fly is not widely present in the United States, but it is found in most South American countries and in five countries in the Caribbean.

The presence of screwworm can be an agricultural nightmare for farmers, Clark said, and would be much more difficult to eradicate had it been discovered in a place such as Texas.

“Thankfully, we have the ability to isolate it here,” he said.

Federal and state officials will remain at a 24-hour northbound checkpoint in Key Largo at mile marker 106, which was set up on Monday to inspect all animals leaving Monroe County for signs of the parasitic fly larvae. They are not pulling all cars over but hope those transporting animals will voluntarily stop to get their animals checked.


Last edited by uncle matt; 10-06-2016 at 10:07 AM.
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Old 10-06-2016, 09:53 AM
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How sad. Every time I visit the Florida Keys I take a bike trip to Big Pine Key cross the bridge to have a slice at the No Name then ride around to see them on all the lawns. Key deer are so cute, very tame and sadly there aren't many left and only live in a small area of the Keys.

Last edited by Champlain Islander; 10-06-2016 at 09:56 AM.
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Old 10-06-2016, 07:31 PM
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Wow. That's kind of scary to think about. Hopefully they can be wiped out before they spread much further.
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Old 10-06-2016, 09:14 PM
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I hope that sterile flies fix the problem again
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