I don’t expect to see another case.”     Dr. John B. Welch, USDA

Officials will continue to treat disease for 120 more days

In an abundance of caution, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam announced Thursday that a team of federal, state and local partners will continue to release sterilized flies for two more life cycles to protect Key deer from screwworms.

“We’ve been talking with our federal partners about the ‘glide path,’” Putnam said referring to the agencies’ exit strategy, “which is a positive thing.”

“I don’t expect to see another case,” said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Dr. John B. Welch.

So far, more than 140 million sterilized flies have been released to stop the spread of screwworm among Key deer in the Lower Keys. The agencies plan to leave an operational team in place to release two more batches of sterilized flies that would protect the herd through most of the fawning season. The interdiction stations, or the pet check at the top of Key Largo, could close as early as next week after having checked about 16,000 pets leaving the Keys.

The infestation was first detected in late September, and had everyone’s attention by October 2016. About 13 percent of the herd that originally numbered 1,000 has been euthanized. Putnam said the outbreak in the Keys was both a blessing and a curse.

“The curse is that there are so many islands; the blessing is that there is only one way out and one way in and it’s such a distance from the mainland,” he said.

All of the speakers — including Dr. Rebecca Bech of the USDA who leads the laboratory in Panama where the sterilized flies are incubated — praised the teamwork of the federal, state and local agencies and the vigilance and volunteerism of Keys citizens.

“It was as bad an infestation as we’ve seen in the U.S., and certainly in Florida,” Putnam said. “But we are thrilled with the success of saving that species of deer and protecting the mainland from this scourge.”

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