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A brief history of fly control

| May 8, 2018

“Birds are the eyes of heaven, and
flies are the spies of hell.” Suzy Kassem,
Rise Up and Salute the Sun:
The Writings of Suzy Kassem

To band all types of flies together as a group does not do them justice, especially with over 30,000 different known species. The most common of these, Musca domestica, has developed a close relationship with humans and our settlements. Its capability to capitalise on human waste and manmade environments assures its existence and proliferation globally. As cities and human activities grow, so does their waste and so does this creature and the diseases it carries.

Adult flies and their larvae are vectors of diseases to humans and livestock and vectors of disease and spoilage in agricultural crops. By the early 1900’s, Musca domestica was known to be the cause of crippling epidemics in major cities all over the world, including outbreaks of typhoid and cholera in London and New York. The common fly is so dangerous it has even been used as a weapon of war. In May 1942, the infamous Japanese Unit 731 dropped ceramic bombs containing flies and Vibrio cholerae, which causes cholera, onto the Chinese city of Baoshan. The flies eventually spread cholera through the Yunnan province, and took almost as many lives as the atomic bombs in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Undoubtedly, flies are efficient vectors of disease and death.

Hygiene and horses

The first papers linking fly populations withdisease transmission emerged around theturn of the 20th Century and immediatelymade clear the need for fly control as ameans of protecting public health. In 1898,during the Spanish-American War, Vaughanet al reported that flies were “active inthe dissemination of typhoid fever”. Theydiscovered that soldiers in tents that hadscreen protections suffered proportionatelyless from typhoid fever. They also discoveredthat, as fly populations decreased with theonset of cold weather, so did disease transmission; by the dead of winter, the fly populations were gone, and so was the typhoid. This observation was also made by Dunnein 1902 during the Boer War. However, it wasn’t until 1903 that Ficken reported, “fliescould contaminate objects upon which they rested”. He discovered that typhoid bacilliwere present on the bodies of flies 5 daysafter feeding, and still active in the alimentary tract 9 days after feeding.

At the time of these discoveries, urban flies were being provided ample—and filthy—breeding grounds in horse manure common in city streets. The primary means of transportation was horse and carriage, and at the height of their popularity in the early 1900s, there were over 50,000 horses transporting people around London each day. New York had a population of100,000 horses producing around 2.5million pounds of manure a day. In 1898, at the world’s first international urban planning conference in New York, the manure and fly situation was debated, but no solution could be found. Governments all over the world began setting up agencies focused on tackling the problem.

A call to action

In 1907, Jackson produced a report on “Pollution of New York Harbour as a Menace to Health by the Dissemination of Intestinal Diseases through the Agency of the Common House-Fly”, which was widely circulated and was the best scientific paper of its time linking houseflies with a variety of common diseases of the time. However, it wasn’t until March 1911, in The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, that Edward Hatch Jr, Chairman of the Fly-Fighting Committee, American Civic Association, published a superb non-scientific paper that encouraged a “thoroughgoing reform of general sanitary conditions, including the adoption of some system of sewage disposal” to reduce the deaths in cities.

This is an extract of the full article published in International Pest Control – January/February 2018 issue.

Read full article online on page 16

Authors: Carl Baptista* and Catherine Perez**
*Biotechnologist,
**Writing and Research Specialist Brandenburg UK Ltd., Hurst Business Park, Brierley Hill, West Midlands, DY5 1UT, UK

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Category: Public health

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