LIVING

Common Flies Carry Far More Bacteria, Diseases Than Previously Thought: Study

"It'll make you think twice about eating that potato salad that’s been sitting out."

11/28/2017 11:01 EST | Updated 11/28/2017 11:05 EST
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A joint study published in Scientific Reports this November found that flies are carrying more bacteria and harmful diseases than we initially thought.

Yes, summer has come and gone. But it needs to be said: barbeques are a mixed blessing.

After all, grilling food literally makes it tastes better. But pesky flies are always scoping out your searing meats, tasty sides and salads. And when a fly lands on your food, your immediate thought should be: "Get out of here, spawn of Satan!"

Overreaction, you say? Perhaps not.

A new study, published in Scientific Reports, says the illness and diseases that flies can carry could be worse and more widespread than scientists previously thought.

Common houseflies, in particular, carry more than 351 types of bacteria, such as salmonella and e-coli, according to the study. Blowflies, which tend to live in warmer regions, can carry bacteria that can lead to stomach ulcers and sepsis.

The buzzy pests breed and feed in poop and on dead carcasses, and different types of bacteria stick onto their legs, wings, antennas. Those bacteria are carried onto any surface flies plop themselves onto.

In other words, think of flies as Ubers for bacteria. The study says that every step they take on a surface can transfer live bacteria.

City flies are worse than country flies

The joint study of Pennsylvania State University, Singapore's Nanyang Technological University and the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro examined 116 house and blowflies from all over the world and the microbes that regularly hitchhike on them.

Based on their findings, researchers are urging public health officials to stop overlooking flies as the sources of certain disease outbreaks. Penn State University said previously that house flies are strongly suspected of transmitting at least 65 diseases to people.

(The study) will really make you think twice about eating that potato salad that's been sitting out at your next picnic.Dr. Donald Bryant, study author

"People had some notion that there were pathogens that were carried by flies but had no idea of the extent to which this is true and the extent to which they are transferred," co-author Dr. Donald Bryant, biotechnology professor at Penn State University, told The Telegraph.

"(The study) will really make you think twice about eating that potato salad that's been sitting out at your next picnic," he said, adding that flies in urban settings tended to carry more bacteria than those in rural locations.

City folk, you have another reason to hit up the countryside.

But it's not all bad news for flies. One of the more unusual futures that could await these house flies could have them acting as a type of early-warning systems — similar to the way miners took canaries underground and were alerted of dangerous airborne substances when the birds died.

'"Flies could be intentionally released as autonomous bionic drones into even the smallest spaces and crevices and, upon being recaptured, inform about any biotic material they have encountered," Schuster told BBC News.

So perhaps, flies will one day make up for the hundreds of meals they ruined.