Screwworm eradication effort will continue into 2017

Aggressive efforts to rid the Lower Keys of New World screwworm aren’t slowing down any time soon.

It could be March or April 2017 before the release of sterile screwworm flies by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is reduced in the fight against the parasitic larvae.

Choosing endangered Key deer found only in the Florida Keys as victims, screwworms have caused the deaths of 132 deer as of Tuesday. The deer, tortured by the worms that feed on living tissue, are euthanized and incinerated on the grounds of the National Key Deer Refuge on Big Pine Key. Some are also found dead in the wild.

“We’re now getting to where there’s one euthanized every few days,” said Alan Huddleston, public information officer with the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The number of phone calls to officers from those living in affected areas is slowing down, too. “Not every call is turning out to be a case and we’re still treating deer,” Huddleston said.

Doramectin, an antiparasitic medicine that serves as a preventive measure and treatment for screwworm, has been given to deer since mid-October and 2,324 doses have now been administered.

The number of sterile screwworm flies released at 25 locations in the Lower Keys and four in Marathon reached 30 million Tuesday, Huddleston said. The sterile flies are released to mate with wild flies to produce offspring that never hatch.

Federal and state officials remain at a 24-hour northbound checkpoint in Key Largo at mile marker 106, which was set up to inspect all animals leaving Monroe County for signs of screwworm. To date, 4,133 animals have been checked at the checkpoint and none have shown signs of screwworm, Huddleston said.

Trained volunteers will go to neighborhoods and businesses in the community Thursday and Friday to share information about screwworm, including how to protect pets or report sick Key deer. For more information or to volunteer, call (305) 742-9687 or email DOHMonroe@flhealth.gov.

Katie Atkins: 305-440-3219