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UF experts addressing outbreak of New World screwworm fly in Florida Keys

Screwworm larva

Screwworm larva. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Heather Walden)

Responding to the announcement yesterday that the New World screwworm fly has been detected in Florida for the first time in a half-century, experts with the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine are taking steps to educate ranchers, property owners and residents about the pest, and assist in eradication efforts in the Florida Keys, where the fly’s larvae were found infesting wild deer.

Jack Payne, UF senior vice president for agriculture and natural resources, noted that the outbreak appears to be limited to a small area but affirmed that strong, immediate action is needed to manage the outbreak and resolve the situation. He confirmed that UF/IFAS personnel will be assisting colleagues with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which made the initial announcement in a news release found at http://www.freshfromflorida.com/News-Events/Press-Releases/2016-Press-Releases/USDA-Confirms-New-World-Screwworm-Cases-in-Big-Pine-Key.

“Florida producers know all too well that we can almost never completely rule out the reappearance of pests and pathogens that were believed to be eradicated,” Payne said. “The good news is, UF/IFAS has dealt with this kind of unexpected crisis before and we’re already fully engaged in this effort.”

James Lloyd, D.V.M., Ph.D., dean of the UF College of Veterinary Medicine echoed Payne’s sentiments and noted that a member of the college’s faculty, parasitologist Heather Walden, was involved in confirming the initial identification of specimens collected from infected deer.

“There’s no cause for alarm, but we are very concerned because the New World screwworm fly, historically, was one of the most serious pests affecting Florida livestock production,” Lloyd said. He added that no screwworm cases have been reported in livestock or people as part of this outbreak.

Known scientifically as Cochliomiya hominivorax, the New World screwworm fly is a significant pest of domestic animals, wildlife and even people in areas where the insect is well-established. It has not been widely present in the U.S. since the 1960s but is still found in most of South America and in five Caribbean countries.

Adult females lay eggs on open wounds or mucous membranes in live warm-blooded animals, and the fly’s larvae consume flesh from the host, which can lead to disability or death. The fly is not considered a serious vector for pathogens, but tissue damage caused by larvae can make affected animals more susceptible to opportunistic infections.

Payne noted that entomologists are preparing a background document for the UF/IFAS online library, the Electronic Data Information Source, or EDIS. When completed and posted later this week, the document will detail the appearance, life cycle, habits, and ecology of the New World screwworm fly.

Extension personnel are being informed about the screwworm outbreak and information on management will be distributed to UF/IFAS Extension county offices statewide, so that Extension personnel can address concerns from ranchers, livestock owners and concerned residents.

Numerous faculty members with UF/IFAS academic departments and Extension offices, and clinical faculty with the UF College of Veterinary Medicine are working on the situation and are potentially available for interviews with reporters, as their schedules allow.