Screwworm Outbreak in Florida Infecting Pets, Too

Screwworms are flesh-eating flies (and unique maggots) that haven't been seen in Florida in over 30 years, but unfortunately, have come back with a vengeance. They were a problem back in the 1950's and 60's but were eradicated by the government using a unique method of raising young screwworms and radiating the larvae with gamma and X-rays, making them infertile. The process saved the agricultural market $900 million, as the usual targets for these screwworms are wild animals like deer and/or farm animals.

Recently, there have been numerous key deer, an endangered species, and a few pets have been infected by these larvae. Over 100 deer and 9 suspected cases of domestic animals, including dogs and cats, have been reported in Southern Florida.

Screwworm eggs are laid by the female screwworm fly in any open wound, scratch, or break in the skin or on mucous membranes. They bore into the flesh like a screw driver, hence their name. The larvae begin to feed on live tissue and muscle, unlike other maggots who feed on dead flesh.

These flies target larger mammals, including humans, house pets and possibly birds and reptiles. In fact, there's a suspected case of a tortoise with the infection right now as well. The scariest part is that, without treatment, these maggots can cause death.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture are confident that using the same process of releasing the gamma and X-ray infected flies will once again rendered the species infertile and end this outbreak, but in the meantime, specialized wound care and attention should be given to any open wound, no matter how small, if you live in an area where these screwworms are present.

If your pet has a wound, keep it covered or keep you pet indoors and away from flies as best you can. If you feel and infection has occurred, seek medical help immediately. The infection is usually very painful and can emit an odd, foul smelling odor and/or release fluid. But, if there is an infection, the maggots need to be removed in order for the infection to heal. An infected pet may need simple topical numbing and cleaning of the wound to remove the maggots, or severe cases may require surgical intervention. In either case, medication will usually be given to properly heal the infected area.

To learn more about the screwworm outbreak and it's impact on the deer population and even household pets, please visit the Miami Herald website.

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