New World screwworm is back in the U.S.

An insect that “sends shivers down every rancher’s spine” has been discovered in Florida.

Wildlife officials found samples of New World screwworm in deer in the areas of Big Pine Key and No Name Key in Florida. The insect’s identification was confirmed by the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

New World screwworm hasn’t been seen in the U.S. in more than 30 years, after the USDA used insects sterilized by radiation to eliminate the possibility of offspring. The insect infested Florida in the 1950s, which it was eradicated. USDA is working with countries in Central America and the Caribbean, where it still exists.

The insect looks like an average housefly, but has orange eyes and a metallic dark blue to blue-green or grey body. It also has three dark strips on its back, with the middle stripe shorter than the other two.

The fly infests warm-blooded animals and occasionally humans. It enters through an open wound and feeds on the animal’s living flesh. Signs of screwworm infestation include a wound that gets larger or gives off an odor or discharge, discomfort or itching at the wound site. It can affect the eyes, ears, mouth, sinuses or lungs. Infested livestock may not eat or may separate themselves from the rest of the herd and seek shady or secluded areas to lie down. Infested animals that are not treated in 7 to 14 days may die.

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam said that his staff are working with federal, state and local partners to protect the residents, animals and wildlife from screwworm. He asked for the public’s assistance in looking out for symptoms of screwworm infestation, especially in the two areas where the fly has been found.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is checking animals from mile-marker 91 south to ensure that the screwworm does not travel through the state. Screwworms do not fly more than a couple of miles, so spread is typically assisted by human travel.

Residents who have pets or livestock should watch for symptoms and report any potential cases to 1-800-HELP-FLA (1-800-435-7352).

“We’ve eradicated this from Florida before, and we’ll do it again,” Putnam said.

Also see:

New World screwworm found in Florida, eradication efforts immediate,” Southeast Farm Press

Screwworm outbreak in Florida deer is first U.S. invasion of parasite in 30 years,” Washington Post

New World Screwworm, fact sheet, USDA APHIS

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