Florida hopes quarantine and irradiated flies stop screwworm

KEY LARGO, Fla. (AP) -- UPDATE: 10/17 10:30 a.m.

Hundreds of pets cleared in Keys screenings for screwworm

Officials say they've found no evidence of screwworm in hundreds of pets examined for signs of the parasite killing endangered deer in the Florida Keys.

Federal and state agricultural officials screened about 75 cats and dogs on Sunday at a veterinary hospital in Marathon.

Any animal being driven north from the Keys onto the mainland also must stop for a screening at a Key Largo checkpoint. According to Florida's Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, over 520 dogs, 20 cats, two parrots and one rabbit had been cleared at the checkpoint by Friday.

New World screwworms are maggots that feed on living, warm-blooded animals. Infected pets usually survive with treatment. However, over 60 endangered Key deer have died since the summer because of screwworm.

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Drivers heading north from the Florida Keys with animals must stop at a Key Largo checkpoint so that agriculture officials can check for signs of New World screwworm, a parasite that once cost the U.S. livestock industry millions every year.

Screwworms are maggots that can eat livestock and pets alive. Officials say that since July, screwworm has killed about 60 Key deer, a unique and endangered species of deer the size of large dogs. It's the first U.S. infestation in more than 30 years.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says the Keys' isolation may help stop screwworm from spreading.

Authorities announced the release beginning Tuesday of millions of male screwworm flies sterilized with radiation. They'll spread through the National Key Deer Refuge, mating with wild female and suppressing the flies' population.