Maggots Gross But Effective
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Maggots Gross But Effective

They’re slimy, squiggly, and they eat dead tissue. But they’re not some creature from a horror movie — I’m talking about maggots. Maggots — as in the worm-like larvae of flies? Why are we talking about them? Because they’re good medicine!

They were approved as a prescriptive therapy in 2004 and have been used to cleanse wounds for thousands of years. Surgeons in Napoleon’s army noticed soldiers whose wounds were infected with maggots were more likely to survive.

During the American Civil War doctors deliberately put maggots into wounds letting them consume dead decaying flesh without affecting healthy tissue. Eventually maggot therapy fell out of favor when antibiotics came out.

But not so fast – fly larvae are still used today and the practice even has a fancy name: biosurgery. Maggots are extremely effective in treating diabetic patients with open sores on legs and feet that have stopped responding to antibiotics. They’re also able to consume infected areas that surgeons have trouble seeing and removing. An average application of sterile maggots can consume ten to fifteen grams of necrotic tissue per day.

Anything they consume, including bacteria, is liquefied and destroyed, so that healthy cells can move in. Maggots also change the pH in the wound, and their secretions contain proteases, which are enzymes that degrade proteins in the tissue, including those that cause inflammation.

Even so, much about how maggots work in wound healing remains a mystery and needs further study. What’s apparent is this archaic therapy is resurging as an effective medical tool, sometimes in cases where antibiotics no longer work.

For more information…

How Maggots Heal Wounds
Science — "Yes, maggots are creepy, crawly, and slimy. But that slime is a remarkable healing balm, used by battlefield surgeons for centuries to close wounds. Now, researchers say they've figured out how the fly larvae work their magic: They suppress our immune system."

Maggots May Clean Wounds Faster than Surgery
SciTechDaily — "Using maggots to clean wounds is a practice that has been around for thousands of years. With the introduction of antibiotics, that practice has ceased, but it may be worth another look, according to a study conducted by a team in France. The study has shown that at least for some types of wounds, maggots may be a better treatment than surgery."

Honey, Mud, Maggots and Other Medical Marvels
A fascinating, historical study of folk medicine reveals that some "old wives' tales" actually make good medical sense.