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Facultative Myiasis-producing Flies of Animals


Jan Šlapeta

, MVDr, PhD, GradCertEd (Higher Ed), Sydney School of Veterinary Science, The University of Sydney

Reviewed/Revised Aug 2022 | Modified Oct 2022
Topic Resources

Facultative myiasis-producing flies of veterinary importance covered in other chapters include Gasterophilus spp Gasterophilus spp Infection in Horses Horse bots are the parasitic larvae of the botflies, Gasterophilus spp. Adult females deposit their eggs onto hair shafts of horses. Bot larvae are eventually ingested through grooming... read more <i >Gasterophilus </i>spp Infection in Horses in horses, Oestrus ovis in sheep Sheep Nasal Bot Myiasis Larvae of the sheep nasal botfly (Oestrus ovis) develop in the nasal sinuses of sheep. Signs of infestation include nasal discharge and sneezing. Rarely, more serious disease develops... read more Sheep Nasal Bot Myiasis , and Cuterebra spp Cuterebra Infestation in Dogs and Cats in dogs and cats. The following larval dipterans are often referred to as facultative myiasis-producing flies: Musca domestica (the house flies); Calliphora, Phaenicia, Lucilia, and Phormia spp (the blow flies or bottle flies); and Sarcophaga spp (the flesh flies). Their adult stages are synanthropic flies, ie, they are often associated with human dwellings and readily fly from feces to food. Larval stages are usually associated with skin wounds of any domestic animal that have become contaminated with bacteria or with a matted hair coat contaminated with feces. In the larval stages, the characteristics of the distinctive caudal spiracular plates and the cephalopharyngeal skeleton are unique for each species and are used for identification.

The life cycle of M domestica is a representative example of that of the filth-breeding flies Filth-breeding Flies of Animals The following adult dipterans are often referred to as filth-breeding flies: Musca domestica (the house fly); Calliphora, Phaenicia, Lucilia, and Phormia spp... read more . Several species of blow flies cause myiasis in sheep. Primary flies in the US and Canada are Phormia regina and Protophormia terraenovae (the black blow flies) and Lucilia sericata (the green bottle fly). L illustris, Cochliomyia macellaria (secondary screwworm), and some others are usually secondary invaders. L cuprina is the most important primary fly in Australia and South Africa; L sericata in Great Britain; and L cuprina, L sericata, and Calliphora stygia in New Zealand.

Pathology of Facultative Myiasis-producing Flies of Animals

Fly strike, sheep

In normal conditions, adult flies of these genera lay their eggs in feces or in decaying animal carcasses. In facultative myiasis, the adult flies are attracted to a moist wound, skin lesion, or soiled hair coat. A common site is the breech, where flies may be attracted to wool soaked with urine or feces. As adult female flies feed in these sites, they lay eggs, which hatch within 24 hours if conditions are moist. Larvae (maggots) move independently about the wound surface, ingesting dead cells, exudate, secretions, and debris, but not live tissue. This condition is known as strike or fly strike. The larvae irritate, injure, and kill successive layers of skin and produce exudates.

Maggots can tunnel through the thinned epidermis into the subcutis. This process produces tissue cavities in the skin that measure up to several centimeters in diameter. Once established, strikes can spread rapidly and attract more blow flies, secondary as well as primary. Mild strikes can cause rapid loss of condition, and bad strikes can be fatal. Unless the process is halted by appropriate treatment, the infested animal may die from shock, intoxication, histolysis, or infection. A peculiar, distinct, pungent odor permeates the infested tissue and the affected animal. Advanced lesions may contain thousands of maggots.

The body of the sheep also may be struck. This is usually associated with soaking rains that cause the development of fleece rot, often characterized by discoloration due to Pseudomonas spp or dermatophilosis. Other sites are the horns of rams, wool around the prepuce, sites where feet with footrot come in contact with fleece, and wounds.

As adults, these flies can be pestiferous in veterinary clinics, farms, or poultry operations. The flies are vomit drop feeders and fly from feces to food, spreading bacteria on their feet and from their disgorged stomach contents.

These fly larvae have also been associated with toxic effects in chickens. Botulism Botulism , also known as limberneck in chickens, has been associated with ingestion of large numbers of larvae of Lucilia caesar, Phaenicia sericata, and other species of flies. Clostridium botulinum multiplies in carrion, where it may be picked up by fly larvae breeding in that medium and then passed on to chickens that eat the maggots. Dead animals should be quickly and safely disposed of, preferably by incineration.

Diagnosis of Facultative Myiasis-producing Flies of Animals

Strikes should be diagnosed early; behavior of sheep is a good indicator of myiasis. Affected animals become depressed, stand with their heads down, do not feed, and attempt to bite the infested areas. Screwworm may be suspected if the larvae are associated with wounds.

The species of myiasis-producing flies can be definitively identified by closely examining the larvae. The extreme caudal ends of several third-stage larvae infesting the wound should be sliced using a scalpel blade held perpendicularly to the larval body. When the sliced caudal ends are placed cut surface down on a glass slide, covered with a coverglass, and examined under a compound microscope, a dichotomous key can be used to identify the genus or genera of flies within the wound. The unique spiracular plates are distinct for a particular genus, much like a human fingerprint. Several specimens should be examined because more than one genus may be present within the lesion. The first larvae to hatch in the lesion often create a favorable medium attractive to flies of other genera. Also, the possibility of obligatory myiasis due to Cochliomyia hominivorax Cochliomyia hominivorax Many dipteran flies produce larvae that must lead a parasitic existence and result in obligatory myiasis. Only one fly in North America, Cochliomyia hominivorax, is a primary invader... read more or Chrysomya bezziana Chrysomya bezziana Many dipteran flies produce larvae that must lead a parasitic existence and result in obligatory myiasis. Only one fly in North America, Cochliomyia hominivorax, is a primary invader... read more should be considered, depending on geographic area.

Treatment and Control of Facultative Myiasis-producing Flies of Animals

  • Shearing affected wool close to the skin to remove maggots, leaving a 5 cm barrier of clean wool around the affected area (strike)

  • Applying a registered flystrike dressing to the shorn area to prevent recurrence

  • Culling affected sheep from breeding programs

Blow fly infestation of the breech can be effectively controlled for ~6–8 weeks by tagging or crutching (ie, wool is shorn between the legs and around the tail). Complete shearing controls outbreaks involving other parts of the body. Wool removed from around the head and the prepuce can prevent strike in these areas.

Odors and associated moisture attract flies and stimulate oviposition, particularly during hot, humid weather. Urine staining of the crutch of Merino ewes can be virtually eliminated by removal of breech wrinkles (Mules operation), and fecal contamination can be greatly reduced by docking tails at the third joint. Scouring should be controlled.

Chemoprophylaxis consists of wetting to complete saturation of susceptible areas with suitable insecticidal and larvicidal preparations, such as the organophosphate insecticides or cyromazine, a specific larvicide in dips and sprays. Jetting is the most efficient procedure—insecticide is forced into the fleece, usually locally to the breech and along the back and head, under high pressure. Protection can last 6–8 weeks; however, where the primary fly is resistant (eg, L cuprina in Australia), it may last only 2–3 weeks. Weekly application of agents such as ronnel (2.5%) under pressure to wounds until healed can be highly beneficial, particularly for screwworm infestation. Before suitable agents are applied, all wool should be removed from the struck area and around it.

A product registered as a flystrike "dressing" is different from a preventive. A dressing kills remaining maggots and prevents restrike as the affected area dries and heals. A dressing rapidly kills and contains ivermectin or spinosyn. The organophosphate diazinon is not recommended as dressing, because of prevalent resistance. Preventives, such as dicyclanil and cyromazine, when applied alone, are not suitable as dressings on welfare grounds, because maggots will take up to 4 days to die. Ensure a product with a suitable withholding period is chosen.

Burning or deep burying of the carcass may be a valuable general hygienic measure but may have little effect on primary strikes. The main source of primary flies is the struck sheep. A genetic manipulation approach has been used to control a strain of blow fly in Australia; male flies are partially sterile but transmit a gene that causes blindness in female offspring.

Treatment and control measures for myiasis in dogs and cats are limited. If these larvae are detected in small animals, immediate treatment is necessary. The hair coat should be clipped to determine the extent of the lesion and to remove many of the larvae present in the hair. Removing maggots from existing deep tissue pockets may be difficult, and sedating or even anesthetizing the animal may be necessary. The lesion should be examined on successive days; adult flies lay eggs in the wound at different times, and hatching of larvae may not be synchronous.

Depressed, febrile, and prostrate animals should be treated according to their clinical signs. Ideally, culture and sensitivity studies should be performed on samples or scrapings of the wounds. If secondary bacterial or fungal infections are present, administration of broad-spectrum antimicrobials is advisable.

With respect to prevention, owners should be educated about the effectiveness of treating all skin wounds. Animals with skin wounds should be confined to fly-free areas. The hair coat should be kept clean of urine or feces and should not be permitted to become matted. Contaminated wounds and matted hair coats soaked in urine or feces rapidly attract adult myiasis-producing flies. The control of adult flies in the field and the destruction of their breeding places are excellent preventive measures. All areas should be free of opened garbage cans and decaying carcasses or carrion.

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