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The association between pests and the spread of human and animal diseases has been established for many years. In the late 1800s biologists found a number of links between many human diseases and insect and rodent carriers of the disease-causing pathogenic organisms.
Of the many millions of insect species, only a relatively small number are capable of causing immense damage to humans by their ability to transmit disease. Such insects are termed vectors. The rodents generally associated with the spread of human disease are even fewer, being restricted to rats and mice.
In many cases the causative organisms of disease undergo some developmental change within the insect vector, e.g. malaria; in others no change takes place and the insect involved is simply a transport mechanism, albeit a complex one in some cases. This group of insects includes many species of the non-biting flies and some species of cockroach both of which live in close association with humans.
Flies have, over the years, been incriminated many times as potential vectors of food poisoning organisms. During the early eighteenth century suspicions arose as to the role that flies played in the transmission of dysentery. These first accounts were based on the links between maximum seasonal peaks in fly populations and the prevalence of diarrhea! Disease, especially dysentery. In the last twenty-five years we have seen increasingly sophisticated experiments and studies into the transmission of food-borne pathogens by flies. Research has included case control epidemiological studies, fly population suppression studies and field studies into the transmission of pathogens by flies that have fed from an infected reservoir.
The potential for contamination of human food with disease-causing agents has been proven over the years and these agents are able to survive on the outside body surfaces of the flies, particularly amongst the numerous hairs. They also survive in the flies’ gut and in their blood system. Fly species included in this group are Muscat domestic, the housefly; Fannie caniculads, the lesser housefly; Cal/Ohara spp, the bluebottle flies; and Lucilia spp, green bottle flies.
The significance of these species of flies as mechanical vectors is increasingly becoming apparent. Since these flies share a very close association with humans the contact between the flies and humans is frequent.
Any form of human habitation, and particularly its waste products, is exploited by flies within a very short period of time. This association is compounded by a number of physiological characteristics of the insects themselves.
Typically, flies have strong flight characteristics and can travel with ease from a contaminated source carrying a wide variety of pathogens, either internally or externally, to an uninfected source. Their bodies are covered with sensory and non-sensory spines and bristles that have been shown to collect detritus and faecal matter. Many extensive studies indicate that a very wide spectrum of disease organisms can be picked up by a fly and carried in this way over considerable distances. They are not restricted to an indoor environment and will carry faecal contaminants from an outside to an indoor location. Similarly, their vector potential is independent of human habitation. Camps and other temporary outside locations are equally at risk.
In their natural habitat flies are found around decaying organic matter, faeces and infected or contaminated material in which they breed. Their bodies become coated with microscopic particles of this matter, which are brushed off during cleaning. These are then deposited onto food, food preparation surfaces, cooking utensils and crockery.
The potential for contamination of human food with disease-causing agents has been proven over the years and these agents are able to survive on the outside body surfaces of the flies, particularly amongst the numerous hairs. They also survive in the flies’ gut and in their blood system.
Amongst the most dangerous of the disease-causing organisms which have been found on flies are: Kiebsielia spp
These bacteria are often the cause of many lower respiratory and urinary tract infections. They have been found on the outside cuticle of the fly and within the gut.