Tampa veterinarians closely watching Florida screwworm infestation

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — As the owner of a walking and pet sitting business “LuxUry Walks,” Sasha Kelly knows what common dangers she needs to look out for in the animals she cares for.

“Fleas, allergies is a big one, skin allergies, allergies to food, ear infections, skin infections,” said Kelly.

Now, there is a new concern to add to that list after a parasite that hasn’t been seen in decades has re-emerged in Florida.

“When something is back in the US, it is a huge concern,” said Dr. Melissa Webster, the owner of the Tampa Veterinary Hospital.

Dr. Webster has been keeping a close eye on the screwworm parasite after the USDA found infestations in the lower keys of Florida earlier this year, mainly affecting the Key deer population.

“They are nowhere else in the US, they are protected. It can affect our deer, our wildlife animals and our personal pets,” said Dr. Webster.

Dr. Webster tells News Channel 8 the screwworm feeds on the flesh of live animals, invading open wounds and can quickly kill livestock, wildlife and pets.

“Sometimes, flies can lay maggots on your cat, but we can really get those maggots off your cat more easily. These (screwworm) things burrow in the flesh,” said Dr. Webster. “That’s why they have the name screwworm because they go deep in the flesh.”

RELATED: Florida still fighting maggots that can eat livestock, pets alive

As of Tuesday morning, screwworms were contained to the lower Florida keys, but its dangers are so great, Dr. Webster suggests checking your pet over every day to be safe, keeping an eye out for any wounds or sores.

“Bring your pet to the vet if you are concerned or if your pet looks like it has any sort of a puncture wound or a hole, bring it in. We would rather tell you it is normal then have you worrying,” said Dr. Webster.

If you are flying out of the country for the holiday season with your pet, you’ll need to check in with your vet to see if your animal needs a screwworm test when you return.

Before they were detected earlier this year, Dr. Webster tells News Channel 8 there had not been a report of screwworms in Florida since the 1960s.

News Channel 8 reached out to USFWS Screwworm Outreach Team and officials tell us there has not been a screwworm-related death there since November 14th, but the fight against the parasite is far from over.

Officials will continue to dole out anti-parasitic medicine and release sterile flies to keep the parasite contained and eventually eradicate it again.

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