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Press Release 98/02


Rome, January 15 -- An outbreak of the potentially lethal Old World Screwworm livestock pest has reached epidemic proportions in Iraq and threatens to spread to neighboring Near East countries unless urgent control measures are implemented, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warned today.  

In December alone, some 50 000 animals were newly infested by the Old World Screwworm in 12 out of 18 Iraqi governates, compared to 31 000 in the previous 15 months. Samples have been found in a diseased animal in Kuwait and the pest has also been detected in Iran, FAO said.

Old World Screwworm, while generally affecting livestock, particularly sheep and cattle, can also spread to humans and a small number of cases affecting people have been reported in Iraq. The Screwworm fly is an obligate parasite of all warm-blooded animals. Flies lay their eggs close to skin wounds and when the grubs hatch they penetrate the flesh and feed on living tissue, causing the disease myiasis which, if not treated, leads to other infections and eventually death.  

In December, FAO and the Arab Organization for Agricultural Development (AOAD) jointly organized a workshop in Damascus attended by representatives of countries affected and threatened by the outbreak. The workshop recommended a two-year action plan to tackle the pest using chemical insecticides, costing some $7.3 million. Already FAO itself has allocated $400 000 to fighting the infestation, and the Netherlands has donated $600 000. Discussions are under way with financial institutions to raise the necessary funding for the action plan.

The Damascus workshop underlined the urgent need for concerted efforts to control legal and illegal cross-border movements of infested animals. Risk analysis has identified Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Syria as being seriously threatened, while the danger for Bahrain, Lebanon, Qatar, Turkey, United Arab Emirates and Yemen is estimated to be lower.

Between 1989 and 1993, FAO was closely involved in successful efforts to rally international action to fight an infestation of the very similar New World Screwworm in Libya which resulted in the complete eradication of the pest.


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