Stockbridge School of Agriculture entomologist John Stoffolano spent a week this summer in Puglia, Italy, as part of an ongoing study of the role of common house flies and their connection to the spread of the ORF virus to sheep and goats worldwide.
The Institute Zooprofilattico of Puglia and Basilicata, division of Viral Diagnostics and Medical Entomology in Foggia, Italy, has received a grant funded by the Ministry of Health with the objective of studying the role of the adult house fly in carrying and spreading the ORF virus to sheep and goats in Italy.
The ORF virus, or Parapoxvirus, causes sore mouth and creates lesions on various parts of the body, including the muzzle and mouth of animals, and can spread to the fingers, hands, arms and face on humans. The disease is spread to humans most commonly by handling infected animals, such as in slaughterhouses. There are reported cases of humans carrying the virus in Massachusetts.
Stoffolano is assisting the Italian researchers in determining the role of the common house fly in transmitting the virus across species by teaching them how to infect the flies, dissect the flies, and how to investigate the presence of the virus in various fly tissues.
His week-long research trip included observing adult house flies feeding on saliva secretions of infected sheep, an unusual behavior in adult house flies. Normally, house flies do not pester sheep, he said.
“What may be happening with global climate warming,” Stoffolano posits, “is that in various parts of the world where it will become warmer, house fly adults will respond to a lack of water by now feeding on the eye and mouth secretions of both sheep and goats.”
He believes and seeks to prove that behavioral changes associated with global warming could put various insect vectors into contact with new hosts, which could increase the spread of pathogens to humans.