Screw-worm fly: chemical containment and eradication of screw-worm incursions in Australia

The Screw-worm fly: chemical containment and eradication of screw-worm incursions in Australia project investigated treatments to combat Old World screw-worm fly.


Screwworms are obligate, invasive parasites of warm-blooded animals. The female flies lay batches of eggs at the edge of wounds or other lesions. These eggs hatch to larvae or screw-worms which feed on affected animals for 6-7 days, burrowing deeply into subcutaneous tissues and causing severe trauma to animals, production loss and potentially death. Susceptible sites include wounds resulting from management practices such as castration, de-horning and ear tagging and lesions caused by the activities of other parasites such as buffalo flies and ticks. The navels of the new born and the vulval region of their mothers following parturition are highly susceptible and body orifices such as nose and ears are also frequent targets for ovipositing screwworm flies.

The Old World screw-worm, Chrysomya bezziana (OWS) is considered one of the most serious exotic insect pest threatening Australia’s livestock industries and is endemic in a number of our closest neighbouring countries. New World screwworm (NWS), Cochliomyia hominivorax, endemic to South America, has also entered Australia on at least 2 occasions. Many tropical and subtropical areas of Australia are suitable for the establishment of OWS and the potential range is expected to increase with climate change. The Australian screwworm preparedness strategy (AUSVETPLAN) indicates a program of containment with chemical treatments followed by eradication of OWS using sterile male release and parasiticides. However, there is no longer an operational OWS sterile insect screw-worm facility anywhere in the world and establishing a large scale production facility would most optimistically take at least 2 years. In the interim, containment would be almost totally dependent on the availability of effective chemical controls.

A review of chemical formulations available for potential use against OWS in Australia found that currently only one chemical, ivermectin administered by subcutaneous injection (s.c.) is registered for use against OWS and that many of the chemicals previously shown to be effective against OWS were no longer registered for animal use in Australia.18 From this review a number of Australian-registered chemicals were recommended as a priority for testing against OWS. The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority (APVMA) can issue an emergency use permit for use of pesticides if they are registered in Australia for other animal uses and shown to be effective against OWS. This project tested the therapeutic and prophylactic efficacy of chemicals with potential for use in the treatment and control of OWS. Information gained will enable the design of optimal emergency programs and provide data on which  can base emergency use permits for an OWS incursion.

When: 2 July 2012 to 31 December 2013

Contact: Dr Peter James

Collaborators: University of Queensland, Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland

More information

For more details about this review, please read the final report summary and download the final report (B.BAH.0004) (PDF, 673.2KB) from the Meat & Livestock Australia website.