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Victory In The War On Screwworm: Keys Animal Quarantine Lifted

The state opened a checkpoint in Key Largo last October for anyone leaving the Keys with an animal. About 17,000 animals were checked; none showed any signs of screwworm.
Nancy Klingener
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Almost six months after the New World screwworm outbreak was identified in the Florida Keys, the state Department of Agriculture announced the lifting the animal quarantine in Monroe County. The checkpoint in Key Largo for animals leaving the Keys closed as of 7 p.m. Saturday.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam told the Florida Keys Keynoter that the release of sterile screwworm flies will end late next month. The state and the U.S. Department of Agriculture have released more than 147 million sterile flies from 34 sites from the Lower Keys to Homestead, where a stray dog was confirmed to be suffering from screwworm in early January.

The Keys outbreak that started last fall was the first U.S. outbreak of screwworm in more than 30 years. The pests are considered a major threat to livestock. Screwworm flies lay their eggs in open wounds of any warm-blooded animal. When the eggs hatch, the larvae feed on the living flesh of their host and can kill them if not treated.

Screwworm is estimated to have killed more than 130 of the Key deer, an endangered species that lives only in the Lower Keys. The Key deer population before the outbreak was estimated at 800 to 1,000 animals.

Sterile fly releases are the proven method for eradicating screwworm. The U.S. helps maintain a sterile fly barrier with regular releases in the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia to prevent screwworm flies from reaching the U.S.

The last screwworm confirmed was found on a Key deer on Munson Island, off Big Pine Key, on Jan. 10.

When the screwworm outbreak was confirmed last fall, Putnam declared an agricultural emergency in the Keys and established a quarantine for all animals in the Keys below mile marker 91. People leaving the Keys with animals were required to pull over for an inspection of the animals at a checkpoint in Key Largo.

While the checkpoint was open, about 17,000 animals were inspected. As of March 17, that list included 15,482 dogs, 806 cats, 301 chickens, two other poultry, 135 parrots, 16 parakeets, one peafowl, one finch, one duck, eight horses, eight sea snails, 11 rabbits, three raccoons, one snake, five primates, nine rodents, six opossums, four swine, four goats, six sheep, two llamas, two camels, three ferrets, four lizards, one hedgehog, six crabs and two sugar gliders.

None of the animals showed any sign of screwworm infestation.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.