Threat of screwworm keeps East Texas Agriculture agents on alert

Updated: Jan. 13, 2017 at 6:26 PM CST
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LUFKIN, TX (KTRE) - It's been 50 years since East Texas ranchers have had to deal with screwworms but the threat could be returning.

In 1966, screwworms were eradicated from the United States. At the height of their invasion, they could wipe out a whole ranch if not monitored.

"The screwworm lays an egg into just a wound of a live animal and can eat live flesh," Texas A&M Agriculture Extension Agent Cary Sims said. "It's just absolutely devastating to livestock, wildlife, and even humans. We think it could have made its way back to the U.S. from the Caribbean Region. Right now, it has been found in a stray dog and some deer in the Florida Keys."

East Texas Agriculture agents are watching the work of Florida officials as they combat the flesh-eating worm.

"It's going to increase management," said Shelby County Agriculture Extension Agent Lane Dunn. "It's going to increase costs. It's going to increase labor. All of those things are going to come into play."

Dunn was a young boy when the threat was very real 50 years ago. Dunn can remember his uncle having to monitor his ranch in the Texas Panhandle on a daily basis.

"In calving season, we would have to watch it closely," Dunn said. "If he had any wound on any cow or whatever, they would pretty much have rope the animal, trip them down and doctor them right there," Dunn said. "It was scary."

Now, Dunn is worried this could affect not only the East Texas economy.

"It would be huge economically from a wildlife population and as well as the cattle and livestock population," Dunn said.

Dunn and Sims are both staying optimistic, believing we beat it once, so we can do it again.

"When they were rampant throughout the United States, we were able to control them quite effectively," Sims said. "That same technology is available to us, and we can do it again."

The Texas A&M Agrilife Extension office will have a meeting on Monday night to discuss the spread of the screwworm as well as other topics including new regulations on medicated livestock feed. The seminar is free and will be led by Texas A&M's Dr. Tom Hairgrove.

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