News

Human screwworm infections a concern

TANEISHA DAVIDSON, Observer staff reporter

Wednesday, March 02, 2005    

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SEVEN Jamaicans have been infected with screwworms since the beginning of the year, but the Veterinary Services Division (VSD) at the Ministry of Agriculture said while this number is relatively low in comparison to last year's figures, it is still concerned.

Jamaica had hoped to eliminate all traces of screwworm by 2004 but last year, 11 persons were infected between January and February.

For the year, 72 persons were infected; while animal and human infestations combined topped 3,000 cases.

"We are concerned about any humans being infected," Dr Osbil Watson, acting senior veterinary officer for the VSD told the Observer.

"It would be our wish that they seek medical attention for proper wound management."

Dr Watson, the chief field officer for the New World Screwworm Eradication Project, said that for the month of January, two cases were found in St Catherine, another two in Manchester and one in Clarendon.

In February, another case was found in Clarendon while Trelawny also reported one case.

A screwworm is an insect parasite that seeks out warm-blooded animals, including humans.

The female fly lays her eggs on the edges of a wound and the larvae hatches into maggots within 12 to 20 hours.

The larvae burrow deeply into tissue and feeds on the living tissue.

Dr Watson said the wounds heal if treated rapidly but, if left untreated, may become reinfested causing lesions. He further cited an example where maggots had burrowed through a portion of a person's head when the wound was left untreated.

"What happens is the nurse will remove the maggot from the wound and dress it to protect it from further infestation," Dr Watson said explaining the treatment process.

Meanwhile, Dr Watson said the screwworm project has seen significant reduction in infestation in animals, but not its eradication.

"We have been having very good success in a lot of the areas, but the set back is that a lot of people don't treat the wounds on the animals that are infected," said the veterinary official, adding that the parasite is most common in dogs.

"We really lack the commitment, they should make sure that they check the dogs before feeding them for wounds and treat those wounds."

Dr Watson said field officers visit home and farms islandwide in an effort to not only distribute insecticide powder free of cost, but also to educate citizens about taking care of a screw worm infestation.

"When the officers go back they find that the same animals are reinfested," he added.

Last year, human and animal infestations combined amounted to 3,130 cases. So far this year, cases have topped 200 islandwide compared to over 600 for the same period last year.

Clarendon and Kingston currently have the most reported cases of screw worm infestation with 25 reported case for February in Clarendon, while Kingston has the second highest, 14.

In January there were 35 cases in Clarendon and 32 cases in Kingston.

"We have been having some problems with Clarendon and so we have increased the ground work to mop up some of the cases. We are trying to identify the problem areas," said Dr Watson. "We are also planning to increase our public awareness programme."

The Agriculture Ministry implemented the three-year New World Screwworm Eradication Project in July 1998 at a cost of $272.44 million with a goal of eradicating the screwworm from Jamaica by the end of 2004.

The sterile insect technique (SIT), used to control the disease, involves the release of millions of sterile male flies to break the life cycle of the flies. The idea is to reduce and ultimately eliminate the screwworm population.

- davidsont@jamaicaobserver.com

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