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Grab the swatter

Houseflies carry more disease than previously thought

Created date

February 20th, 2018
close up photo of a housefly

Scientists have long suspected that flies can carry and spread disease. Finding proof about the mechanisms of transmission and extent of the threat to humans, however, has been hard to come by. 

Now, a study by a team of scientists may offer more insight into the process. Penn State researchers, along with a team of international scientists, analyzed 116 types of houseflies and blowflies from three countries: Brazil, the U.S., and Singapore. They chose these types of flies because they are carrion species, which means they use feces and decaying organic substances to lay eggs and hatch young. 

Leg action 

By analyzing the microbiomes (collection of microbes) on the flies, the researchers found that some of them carried hundreds of species of bacteria. One of the microorganisms found was Helicobacter pylori, which is associated with the development of gastrointestinal ulcers in humans. When observing the insects’ behavior, they found that the action of the legs was responsible for transferring most of the bacteria from surface to surface. 

Scientists believe this study has important implications for public health, as the results may illustrate how flies transmit disease to people, especially when outbreaks occur. The researchers hope that advanced genomic and molecular analysis techniques may help detect the likelihood of disease outbreaks even before they occur.