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Flesh-Eating Screwworm Moves From The Keys To Mainland

Nancy Klingener
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam helps clean out a sterile screwworm fly release site in the Keys.

A stray dog in Homestead was infested with screwworm, the invasive pest that is hated and feared by the agriculture industry, state officials said Monday.

It's the first case on the mainland. Screwworm was discovered last fall in the Lower Keys, the first U.S. infestation in more than 30 years.

Since then, more than 80 million sterile screwworm flies have been released in the Lower and Middle Keys. That's the proven method for eradicating screwworm.

Screwworm flies lay their eggs in open wounds on warm-blooded animals. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the host's living flesh, which is eventually fatal.

Florida Agriculture Department spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said in a statement that the state will search for screwworm flies in the area where the dog was found, canvas the area to search for animals that may be infested and ask animal shelters and veterinary facilities to report any cases to the state.

Most of the animals affected in the Keys so far have been endangered Key deer, though it has also been found on dogs, cats, a raccoon and a pig.