In nearly a week of monitoring South Miami-Dade for the flesh-eating New World screwworm, state authorities have found only one wild fly but still aren’t taking any chances.
After discovering an infected stray German shepherd in Homestead, officials started releasing sterile screwworm flies twice weekly as a precautionary step. About 300,000 flies are being released on Tuesdays and Fridays from four sites across Homestead and Florida City.
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The screwworm fly, which resembles a fruit fly, is responsible for the death of at least 135 endangered Key deer in almost four months.
“We have seen the carnage that the New World screwworm has caused to the Key deer and so now we have opened up a second front in this war,’’ said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam at a press conference Thursday.
The aggressive effort is intended to protect wildlife in Everglades National Park, as well as livestock and pets in the area, Putnam added, noting that if it spreads, it would pose a considerable threat to the state’s $1 billion ranch industry.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are also asking all pet owners to get animals or pets checked by a veterinarian if they have a wound.
“It’s easily treatable in pets. It is a lot easier to treat pets than it is to treat wild deer,” Putnam said, noting that unlike livestock, many of the wild deer live in wild, inaccessible territories.“That will also help us identify if it’s spreading.”
The monthly bill for the efforts so far? About half a million dollars. But Putnam said that amounted to “pennies compared to what the potential risk is to the state of Florida and the environment if this outbreak gets worse.”
The infected dog was originally spotted shortly before Christmas by a resident who called Miami-Dade County animal control. The dog, which had no identifying chip and no tags, was later taken to an animal shelter before being turned over to a German shepherd rescue group. It’s not clear if it was a stray or had been abandoned. Staff with the rescue group spotted the infection, isolated the dog and began treating it. The dog is still recovering.
“We are trying to do the epidemiology to identify how the fire jumped the line,” Putnam said. “It’s very difficult [to identify how the dog got to the mainland] because it’s a stray dog, I can’t interview him.”
The outbreak is the first in Florida in more than 50 years and first in the country in about 30 years.
To report any suspected infections, call 1-800-HELP FLA (435-7352).