Revenge of the fried flies


By Andy Coghlan in Chicago ELECTRIC “zappers” which kill house flies may spread infection rather than prevent it. James Urban of Kansas State University in Manhattan has shown that flies explode on contact with the electrified grid, showering viruses up to 2 metres away. “The insects don’t totally disintegrate, but some fly parts are aerosolised,” says Urban. “My advice would be not to use fly zappers in food handling areas or where kids’ toys are lying around.” In earlier experiments Urban and his colleague Alberto Broce had shown that zapped flies can spread bacteria. This time they fed or coated flies with a bacteriophage, a virus that infects bacteria, in this case Escherichia coli. “The phage is the same size and shape as the polio virus,” says Urban. The researchers found that viruses were more likely to spread into the air from the flies coated with bacteriophage, with 1 virus out of every 4000 escaping compared with 1 in a million if the flies were fed the virus. Although the viruses were heated when the flies were zapped, this did not kill them. Flies do pick up viruses on their outer surfaces, says Urban. He is most concerned about the spread of rotaviruses, which cause severe diarrhoea, especially in infants, and hepatitis A. Urban adds that aerosolised fly body parts could also cause problems for people who are prone to allergies. More on these topics:
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