KEYS TOURISM ADVISORY    Jan. 11, 2017 • 4 p.m.

Agriculture Officials Plan Release of Sterile Screwworm Flies in Homestead



 and federal agriculture officials to plan to begin to release sterile screwworm flies on Friday, Jan. 13, in the area as a precautionary measure.


Since the 1950s, the sterile insect technique has been used to effectively eradicate screwworm, and it is considered safe for people, animals and the environment, officials said.


Agricultural officials have already released over 80 million sterile flies from 25 ground release sites on twelve islands in the Lower Keys and the City of Marathon. Releases in the Lower Keys are expected to continue at least into the summer of 2017. Releases are currently no longer needed in Marathon, officials said.


Stepped-up surveillance has not located any screwworm flies outside of the Lower Keys.


The following Q&A is posted on the Florida Keys tourism council's website to provide a resource to answer visitor questions about the disease. The talking points have been developed with the aid of state agriculture and veterinary resources.    

What is the screwworm?
Screwworms are fly larvae or maggots that can infest livestock and other animals. They mostly infect an animal through an open wound and feed on the animal’s living flesh. The New World screwworm has not been widely present in Florida since 1959.
Why are the Florida Keys under a state of agricultural emergency?
Federal and state agricultural officials are concerned with New World screwworm cases that caused the death of a number of Key deer on Big Pine and No Name keys. A few domestic animals in the Lower Keys also succumbed to the disease.

What about the Animal Health Check Station in the Keys?
All animals leaving the Keys need to be examined at an Animal Health Check Station at mile marker 106, off the shoulder of northbound lanes of the Overseas Highway. The examination primarily involves a noninvasive visual observation of the animal with questions for the owner requiring a brief time period. A document is provided to the animal’s owner proving compliance with the inspection.     

To date, over 10,200 animals have been inspected without any evidence of infection.    

Where are screwworms in the Keys?

Screwworms have been detected on Big Pine Key, No Name Key; Big, Middle and Little Torch keys; on Cudjoe, Ramrod, Sugarloaf and Summerland keys, as well as uninhabited Munson Island. No screwworms have been found the Upper and Middle Keys, including Key Largo, Islamorada and Marathon, as well as Key West.    

Can I bring my pet to the Florida Keys?
There is no prohibition against travelers bringing pets to the Keys, but veterinarians caution to ensure that your pet is healthy and has no open wounds. Especially in the Lower Keys, it is best to keep your pet indoors. All animals leaving the Keys need to be examined at the check station at mile marker 106.  

How will I know if an animal is infected by a screwworm?

The screwworm can only enter animals through open wounds, officials said. Veterinary experts said that animal owners who notice flies or maggots in open wounds of their pets should immediately take them to a veterinarian for examination and treatment.       

Do screwworms infect humans?

Human cases of New World screwworms are extremely rare, although they have occurred. People infested with screwworms usually have discomfort or itching at the site of a wound. If the screwworm affects a human’s eyes, mouth, sinuses or lungs a resulting illness, while extremely rare, may become incapacitating. There are no current reported cases of human infections from screwworms in the Keys or United States.    

What is being done to eradicate the screwworm in the Keys?
Responses by state and federal agriculture workers include fly trapping to determine the extent of the infestation, release of millions of sterile flies to eliminate the screwworm population and surveillance to monitor cases in animals.        
Are the Key deer being treated?
Preventive measures are continuing at the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key, and teams of experts are treating as many Key deer as possible with an antiparasitic medicine. Trained Refuge staff are also treating Key deer reported to be infected.       

Who do I contact for more information?

Call 800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352) for more information. To report a suspected case of screwworm in Key deer, call 305-470-6863, option 7.

More Info Online:  Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services