Flesh-Eating Worms Have Hit Florida's Mainland

Fresh off the wire: New World screwworms that are ravaging Florida's Key Deer are now on Florida's mainland!

"The Texas Animal Health Commission(TAHC) was notified by The United States Department of Agriculture(USDA) of the confirmed presence of New World screwworm in a stray dog that was found in Homestead, Florida. This is the first time screwworms have been found on Florida’s mainland in decades."

These flesh-eating flies were eradicated from the U.S. in 1983 by using sterile male screwworms and a vigorous campaign starting in the late 1950’s. The re-introduction of this deadly pest has since been prevented with a barrier of sterile screwworm flies south of the Panama Canal. Screwworms are endemic in most of South America and a few Caribbean islands, most notably Cuba and Jamaica. On September 30th of 2016, however, it was confirmed that the screwworm had made it’s way back into the U.S.

Screwworms are the only fly that consumes live flesh as a food source, and it’s not just through a wound that larvae enter a living host. They also penetrate areas like eyes, ears, nostrils, and the anus. Screwworms can infest all types of mammals and other warm-blooded animals, including livestock, wildlife, pets and even humans, although they are rarely found in birds. 

There is no FDA approved medication to treat screwworms, so infestations are treated with removal of the maggots, surgical debridement of the infected area, antibiotics for secondary infections, and sometimes intra-wound insecticides in livestock.

Presumably it will take considerable time for this parasite to be eliminated from the U.S., so be alert to the possibility that we may see the screwworm, once again, in Texas. It is important that owners watch any wounds that do not heal properly. Larvae may not be apparent and a veterinarian should be consulted in such situations.  Check out this article for additional facts:

Screwworm Facts from the University of Florida