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Flesh-eating worms have appeared in Florida


(NaturalNews) After nearly 35 years of being eradicated in the U.S., a destructive, flesh-eating worm has reappeared within our borders -- in the state of Florida, to be exact, where officials believe it may be quietly and unassumingly entering the country through Cuba.

Known as the screwworm, the worm, which does exactly as its name suggests, seems to find its way into humans through open flesh wounds. Once there, it begins screwing through flesh, eating whatever it can along the way.

The Atlantic reports that 1982 was the year the screwworm is believed to have been vanquished from the U.S. An expensive program that involved blasting sterile male screwworms into wild populations effectively culled them, and the war on flesh-eating worms was won.

Except that it wasn't, and the Florida Keys are ground zero for the return of these deadly worms. Deer living in a wildlife refuge have reportedly shown signs of infection, and officials are scrambling to come up with a new plan to get rid of them before they spread to other states.

"The screwworm is a potentially devastating animal disease that sends shivers down every rancher's spine," Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam H. Putnam said in a recent statement. "It's been more than five decades since the screwworm last infested Florida, and I've grown up hearing the horror stories from the last occurrence."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) has also confirmed the reemergence of the screwworm, warning that at least three deer living within the wildlife refuge in Big Pine Key have tested positive for the worms, as have a few pets living in the area.

"This foreign animal disease poses a grave threat to wildlife, livestock, and domestic pets in Florida," Putnam added. "Though rare, it can even infect humans. We've eradicated this from Florida before, and we'll do it again. We will work with our partners on the federal, state, and local level to protect our residents, animals, and wildlife by eliminating the screwworm from Florida."

Are GMO mosquitoes the answer to flesh-eating worms? Hardly
The USDA first launched its flesh-eating worm sterilization program back in 1950, and the weapon of choice at that time was X-ray radiation. Equipment borrowed from an army medical unit was used to blast male screwworms' chromosomes, which effectively stopped them from mating with females and reproducing.

The program eventually morphed into one that involved the use of pesticides and other chemicals to sterilize these pests, and the government claimed that by 1982 screwworms had been effectively pushed down to the southernmost tip of Central America, never again to be seen in Mexico or the U.S.

Now that screwworms have returned, however, a new program involving genetic modification is being proposed that, like with invasive mosquito populations, involves releasing GMO male species into wild populations to, again, stop them from reproducing.

But there are major scientific concerns about this, mainly that these so-called "sterile" creatures may, in some case, be able to reproduce and make the problem worse. If this ends up being the case, it would quickly become a genie-out-of-the-bottle situation in which there would be no way of reversing their release and stopping the have that would ensue.

"The potential benefit ... is you might need to release [the gene-altered mosquitoes] less often," Andrew McKemey, an entomologist and head of field operations for a company known as Oxitec that's developed genetically-modified mosquitoes for use in mosquito control, told The Atlantic in an earlier interview about dealing with invasive pests. His company's technology is similar to that being proposed for dealing with invasive screwworms. The two likely have similar shortcomings and potential risks; after all, we are toying with nature.

"[B]ut the downside is something unforeseen happens, and it's out there," he added.





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