Belize Agricultural Health Authority Vigilant Amid New World Screwworm Outbreak in Central America

Belize Agricultural Health Authority Vigilant Amid New World Screwworm Outbreak in Central America

The Belize Agricultural Health Authority (BAHA) is closely monitoring the outbreak of New World screwworms in Central America. The heightened surveillance comes after Panama declared a State of Zoosanitary Emergency and reported cases in cattle, pigs, dogs, and horses. The New World screwworm is a parasite that can affect all mammals, including humans, and feed on the skin and underlying tissue of its host. Belize became free from the New World screwworm in 1992 and has maintained this status since then. And, according to Technical BAHA’s Director of Animal Health, Dr. Roxanna Alvarez, the organization is making moves to ensure the country stays free of the parasite.

Dr. Roxanna L. Alvarez, Technical Director of Animal Health, BAHA: “Normally for the importation of all animal species we have set import conditions, right? These are conditions that need to be met and are shared with importers after they have applied for an import permit because any animal that is imported into Belize has to have an import permit. Animals that are imported legally of course, right? What we’ve done at this this point is that we’ve added one condition for animals coming in from Panama and Costa Rica specifically and this is veterinary inspection. Originally in the import conditions it set that the quarantine officers at the ports of entry can carry out inspection of all animals because they come with the required documentation and their permit has been approved right ? So the only additional condition at this point is for Panama and Costa Rica and it requires veterinary inspection of all animals imported from those countries. At risk are all mammals because the New World Screw Worm is not necessarily picky. All mammals are at risk. We have not had any importations from these countries lately and we have been on alert for a while now. We know the situation across the world. We do horizon scanning, that’s what it’s called, on a daily basis to ensure that we are aware of what is going on around the world and specifically in Central America since we are part of this region.”

Dr. Alvarez went on to explain how the parasite infects persons and how persons traveling in Central America can ensure they stay clear of the parasite. 

Dr. Roxanna L. Alvarez, Technical Director of Animal Health, BAHA: “The risk is determined primarily by your interaction with infected animals, right? In Panama, this is limited to a specific zone and in Costa Rica there has only been one case and it was in a dog that was imported illegally from Panama, right? So the risk is primarily dependent on your interaction with infected animals. What happens is that the female fly will lay her eggs on an infected wound, an open wound or on mucous membranes of animals and the eggs will then later on hatch into larvae, of course, transform into larvae and that’s when they start burrowing and eating into tissue.”

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