Agriculture officials use sterile male flies to rid Monroe County of screwworms

Flesh-eating parasite threatening key deer

By Hatzel Vela - Cuba Correspondent

BIG PINE KEY, Fla. - Agriculture officials are working hard to stop the spread of screwworms that are threatening endangered key deer in Monroe County.

Officials showed reporters boxes Thursday that each hold 76,000 sterile male flies. Once released, their job is to trick females into thinking they have mated.

Because the male flies are sterile, the females stop breeding and do not lay new eggs.

"We do this rain or shine for as long as it takes to eradicate this," John Welch, from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said.

Officials said the eggs produce the flesh-eating parasite, which has killed 117 key deer in Monroe County.

The parasite attacks animals through open wounds and feeds on its flesh. 

Officials have been examining pets in the Florida Keys since the screwworm outbreak, making sure that it doesn't keep spreading.

"We have stopped nearly 2,000 vehicles. We've looked at parrots, rabbits, dogs, horses (and) cats," Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam said.

While the parasite can affect domesticated pets, and even humans, it is treatable.

The technique to rid the area of screwworms through sterile male flies was last used in Florida in the 1950s.

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