~ Heidi Moawad MD
Fruit flies are an annoying and often disgusting presence. Commonly seen in warm temperatures or when fruit has been left out for a while, they can seemingly appear out of nowhere and multiply. And, many people wonder if these pests pose any health risks. Concerned patients may ask if ingesting fruit flies or the debris left on their food from fruit flies could have caused their gastrointestinal illness.
Where do fruit flies come from?
Fruit flies are a species of insect in the Drosophilidae family. They tend to emerge in and around decaying food, and may even make an appearance around fruit that is not obviously decaying yet. They reproduce very rapidly, so fruit that is accompanied by only a few fruit flies may quickly become a source of a proliferation of the small insects.
Can fruit flies make people sick?
Strangely enough, despite the disgust factor, there is not a specific medical illnesses associated with accidentally ingesting fruit flies or with eating food that has touched fruit flies. Spoiled food can make people sick for a number of reasons, but not as a result of the fruit flies.
Fruit flies as a source of illness and bacteria
While fruit flies themselves are not associated with any specific illness, there are some concerns about fruit flies carrying bacteria from one place to another and contaminating food with infectious microorganisms. And, the spread of fruit flies from one region to a far away location has been seen with transporting food from one country to another. This has been postulated as a means of transporting infectious microorganisms from endemic areas and spreading infectious disease to populations that are not immune.
The proliferation of fruit flies and the spread of fruit flies are often blamed for the widespread destruction of valuable produce when it becomes contaminated. Public health concerns can cause alarm for patients, particularly parents, who may be apprehensive about their childrens’ exposure to the tiny bugs.
Is there a treatment for fruit fly ingestion?
While patients might want to get rid of fruit flies because they are considered unsightly or even embarrassing, there is not a medical treatment specifically for the exposure to fruit flies. Anxious patients should be reassured that fruit flies are not dangerous.
If patients become sick due to a microorganism carried by fruit flies, of course it is difficult to really trace the source of the infection. However, the infectious illness should be diagnosed on its own and the treatment should be directed towards the specific microorganism, and not in any way to fruit flies.
Have you ever had patients ask you about the health risks of fruit flies? Join the discussion on Sermo!
Analysis of Seasonal Risk for Importation of the Mediterranean Fruit Fly, Ceratitis capitata (Diptera: Tephritidae), via Air Passenger Traffic Arriving in Florida and California, Szyniszewska AM, Leppla NC, Huang Z, Tatem AJ, J Econ Entomol. 2016 Sep 4. pii: tow196
Heidi Moawad MD, author of Careers Beyond Clinical Medicine, is a neurologist and a medical writer. Dr. Moawad currently sees patients in the telemedicine setting and teaches human physiology and global health at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio. An active member of the American Academy of Neurology, Heidi Moawad is on the payment policy committee of the American Academy of Neurology, has written peer reviewed articles, is on the Editorial Board of Neurology Clinical Practice and regularly contributes to several online health websites, including about.com. Dr. Moawad has experince as a clinical neurologist and as a consultant in the health insurance industry.
Dr. Heidi Moawad is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and trained at Northwestern Evanston Hospital in Evanston, Illinois in Internal Medicine internship and University of Chicago Hospital in Chicago, Illinois in Neurology.