Pet owners advised to protect animals against screwworm

Screwworm treatable if identified early

HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Veterinarians, local and state officials are telling pet owners not to panic after a stray dog in Homestead was diagnosed with the flesh-eating screwworm. 

While screwworms can affect any warm-blooded animal -- meaning that  dogs, cats, guinea pigs and birds can get the flesh-eating parasite -- Dr. Maria Serrano said animals who live outdoors are the most at risk. 

The screwworm fly lays an egg in a wound and the larvae feed on healthy tissue, which is why it is called a flesh-eating parasite. 

"It has to be an animal that has an open wound or an animal that is debilitated for the fly to be able to lay eggs in the wound or any orifice that has mucous membranes exposed," Serrano said.

She said pet owners should inspect a pet’s skin for open wounds and take the animal to the vet if maggots are found.

"It's 100 percent treatable and dogs and cats survive this treatment, if it's identified early, of course," Serrano said.

Charlie, the stray German shepherd in Homestead that was diagnosed with screwworm, is the first case in the mainland. 

The dog has been treated, is in good health and is ready to be adopted through a local shepherd rescue.

Meanwhile, in the Keys, screwworms have killed more than 100 Key deer, an animal listed as endangered. 

Florida's agriculture department recently released thousands of sterile male flies to combat the screwworm by tricking females into mating.

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

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