Flesh-eating screwworm found in stray dog on mainland

HOMESTEAD, Fla. (AP) — Agriculture officials say New World screwworm has been found for the first time in decades on Florida’s mainland in a stray dog. Now federal and state agencies will begin to release sterile flies as a means to eradicate the worms.

Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said in a statement Monday that the dog found in Homestead with the flesh-eating parasite is in good health after treatment.

New World screwworms are fly larvae (maggots) that can infest livestock and other warm-blooded animals, including people in rare cases. They most often enter an animal through an open wound and feed on the animal’s living flesh.

“While the dog has been treated and is doing well, there are still a lot of unknowns about the dog’s history and recent locations,” said Adam Putnam, Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture. “Given that Florida’s livestock industry is at stake, this sterile fly release is a precautionary move to ensure we’re doing everything we can to aggressively eradicate the screwworm from Florida.”

Meale’s statement says officials will search the Homestead area for screwworm flies and other animals possibly infected with the parasites that have been killing endangered Key deer.

State and federal agriculture officials have been trying since October to contain the first U.S. screwworm infestation in over 30 years to the Florida Keys, when some Key deer were found to have the parasite on Big Pine Key.

With the stray dog’s diagnosis, the agencies expanded surveillance from the Keys to Homestead. While no additional animals have been found with screwworm and none of the surveillance measures has yielded positive finds, this sterile insect release is being conducted as a preemptive measure.

Over 10,000 pets, livestock and other animals have been cleared by authorities checking for signs of screwworm in vehicles traveling to the mainland from the Keys.

USDA Chief Veterinarian Dr. Jack Shere said area residents should check their pets for any suspicious wounds. Any potential cases should be reported to 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) or non-Florida residents should call (850) 410-3800.

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