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Photos via United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Costa Rica records a second death from screwworm disease

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Published on Thursday, June 27, 2024
By the A.M. Costa Rica staff

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Health disclosed the second human fatality caused by screwworms in Costa Rica.

According to a brief statement from the health officials, this second case matches many characteristics of the first case, who died of the same disease last week.

This second victim was from the Valle La Estrella District of Limón Province.

The disease was found in the local public clinic, where this person was receiving treatment for a mouth infection.

Following an initial medical checkup, doctors detected screwworm larvae on the patient's skin. As part of the procedure in this case, the patient was taken to the Tony Facio-Castro Public Hospital in the same province, where medical tests revealed a screwworm infestation.

Autopsy forensic examinations revealed that this person died as a result of a screwworm infection.

Authorities keep the victim's identity, sex, and age as confidential information.

So far this year, there have been 11 confirmed cases of screwworm infestation in humans in Costa Rica since the pest returned to the country in 2023. 

The first human infection was confirmed in February 2024. The patient was a man from Pavones District, Golfito Canton, Puntarenas Province. He received proper medical attention and overcame the disease.

The screwworm disease is caused by larvae of the fly Cochliomyia hominivorax. It is a parasitic insect whose larvae (maggots) consume live tissue in warm-blooded animals, including humans.

The female flies lay 250 to 500 eggs in exposed tissue, such as wounds. The larvae hatch and burrow into the surrounding tissue while feeding. If the wound is disturbed at this stage, the larvae dig or "screw" further into the flesh, resulting in the larva's popular name. The larvae can cause significant tissue damage and even death to the host.

The fly's body is bluish-green, with a metallic sheen and orange eyes. It is around 8-10 mm long, double the size of an ordinary house fly. The insect prefers to lay eggs on wounds, mucous membranes, or moist body areas.

Last year, Costa Rica issued a Health Emergency Alert to battle the plague. The warning enables fly control measures to be implemented, such as active surveillance on farms where instances are found.

Additional actions include dispersing sterile male flies, which is the primary method utilized to remove the worm. About 15 million sterile male flies are being disseminated countrywide in 5 flights every week, with traps deployed to detect the existence of the fly.

Checkpoints were also established to ensure that the animals being transported were not infected.

In February, the U.S. donated $10 million to Costa Rica via its embassy to control and eradicate screwworm disease.

Recently, the U.S. Embassy issued a Health Alert over the screwworm in Costa Rica.

Authorities urge the public to report
any suspected cases of sick animals or people by calling the emergency line at 2587-1600.

What have you heard about the screwworm plague in your country? We would like to know your thoughts on this story. Send your comments to