As part of the ongoing New World screwworm eradication efforts in Monroe County, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has assessed more than 15,000 animals for screwworm at the Animal Health Check Point, located at Mile Marker 106 in Key Largo. The department checks all animals traveling north out of the Keys for screwworm to prevent the spread of the infestation to the mainland. It has been more than 50 years since the New World screwworm has been found in Florida, and it could devastate the livestock industry if it spreads.
“We’re aggressively working to eradicate the screwworm in Florida,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam. “I thank Keys residents and visitors for stopping at the Animal Health Check Point because even the smallest number of flies on the mainland would threaten our livestock industry.”
The Animal Health Check Point is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Since setting up the animal health checkpoint, agricultural law enforcement officers have assessed animals ranging from camels to parrots.
Early detection of screwworm infestations in pets, animals and livestock is key to successfully treating the wounds for a full recovery. A screwworm infestation is easily identified by:
- Wounds infested with maggots;
- Blood tinged discharge and foul odor;
- Decreased appetite of milk production; and
- Seclusion from the rest of the herd or flock.
Residents who have warm-blooded animals (pets, livestock, etc.) should watch their animals carefully and report any potential cases to 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) or non-Florida residents should call (850) 410-3800. Visitors to the area should ensure any pets that are with them are also checked.
In early October, the United States Department of Agriculture confirmed the presence of a New World screwworm infestation in the Key Deer population on Big Pine Key and No Name Key. New World screwworms are fly larvae (maggots) that can infest livestock and other warm-blooded animals, including people. They most often enter an animal through an open wound and feed on the animal’s living flesh.
In addition to outreach efforts and worm analyses at the interdiction station, the department is working with the USDA and other partners to implement the sterile fly technique. More than 124 million sterile flies have been released from ground sites. The infertile male flies mate with flies in infested areas to gradually breed the fly out of existence.
The sterile fly technique remains the most proven and effective tool since successfully eradicating the last screwworm infestation decades ago. Today, USDA and its partners maintain a permanent sterile fly barrier at the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia to prevent the establishment of any screwworm flies that enter from South America.
For more information and to sign up for weekly screwworm email updates, visit FreshFromFlorida.com/screwworm.