It’s been five months since the first case of New World screwworm in decades was confirmed in the Lower Keys.
Now, after releasing nearly 124 million sterile screwworm flies to mate with wild flies, producing eggs that never hatch, the Keys and Homestead could be declared screwworm-fly-free as early as next month, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture liaison Rick Riesland.
The parasitic larvae that feed on open wounds and can eat any warm-blooded animal alive caused the deaths of 135 endangered Key deer. There have not been any screwworm-related deer deaths or reports of screwworm in the Keys since Jan. 7.
A stray dog found in Homestead with an infestation sparked heavy concern in early January about screwworms spreading to the mainland, which could threaten Florida’s livestock industry and other endangered species. There have been no reports since.
Riesland said in order for screwworms to be declared eradicated, there has to be a 90-day stretch without any reports of screwworm.
The USDA has cut back on the number of officers from all over the country staffed at an incident command post in a former passenger departure area at Florida Keys Marathon International Airport. There are also workers from the state Department of Agriculture.
“It will continue to be manned and varies from day to day. Many of those people are doing more than one job,” Riesland said.
Those jobs have included coordinating the sterile fly arrivals from Panama and schedules for the workers.
A tent at mile marker 106 in Key Largo is still staffed around the clock with state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services officers.
They’ve been working in shifts since October checking pets for New World screwworm infections as they exit the Keys.
More than 15,000 animals ranging from cats and dogs to camels and parrots have been given a once-over, all receiving a clean bill of health.
State and federal officials are trapping and monitoring flies in the region and keeping in touch with veterinarians, animal shelters and rescue groups, but there have been no other reports of screwworm.
Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219