Maggot, man’s new best friend…

by Yule Heibel on March 16, 2007

Not quite sure I want to diigo this little tidbit or bookmark it in any other way, so why not blog it? It seems that maggots are our (new) best friends — now that we’ve fritzed antibiotics — in combating flesh-eating bacteria. According to this Times Online March 12 article, “Maggots clean wounds 18 times faster than normal treatments, can conquer MRSA and would save the NHS (National Health Service) millions.” But are they kosher? (Or rather: are you kosher?)

Maggot, or larval, therapy is not new. Civilisations worldwide, from Australian Aborigines to Burmese hill tribes and the Mayans, have used fly larvae to clean damaged wounds for centuries. During the First World War, Dr William Baer, of the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, described finding two soldiers who had been wounded on the battlefield and left alone for days. When their clothes were removed, thousands of maggots were present in their wounds — yet beneath them the doctor was astonished to find clean, pink flesh. Baer renewed interest in maggots among the medical profession but it was short-lived; by the 1930s, with the arrival of antibiotics and modern surgical appproaches, they fell from favour.

But with the spread of resistance to antibiotics and the rise of “superbugs” such as MRSA, antibiotics are no longer considered the panacea they once were. Instead, the tiny grubs are squirming their way back into mainstream medicine. It is now known that enzymes produced when maggots eat rotting meat break down the dead tissue, which is sucked up and turned into new protein. Crucially, the enzymes stop working on contact with healthy or clean tissue, so when they are applied — either loosely beneath a bandage or inside a sealed bag — to a leg ulcer, for instance, they will consume only the rotting materials and leave the wound clean. Because they are regulated by the European Medicines Agency (EMEA), maggots used for medical purposes are considered pharmaceuticals and therefore had to undergo years of rigorous safety and efficacy tests before being approved for use on patients. Now, though, they are being introduced in hospitals from Belgium to Poland with reports of great success. [More]

The article does point out that maggots have a public relations battle of sorts to fight, namely the “yuck” factor. (An incidentally not insignificant “factor,” considering that the maggots used are smaller than a grain of rice when initially applied to a wound, but grow in size by a centimeter. Considering that no grain of maggot works alone, but rather always shows up as part of a large group, that’s a lot of tissue. And we don’t mean Kleenex, either.)

Nor does it stop with maggots:

Another creepy-crawly gaining popularity among doctors is the parasitic helminth worm. These, unlike other parasitic worms, do not cause disease or invade other body parts. A 2004 study in the journal Gut found that patients with Crohn’s disease who swallowed a worm for a 24-week period showed significant improvement. [More]

Ok, I’ve known children (of friends) with Crohn’s, and look, if parasites help with this disease, so be it. It’s worth looking into.

But I admit that this description has me thinking of the Black Adder sketch advising another round of leeches to cure what ails:

Marlene Williams, 70, Bridgend, South Wales.

“Last June I had an accident in my kitchen when a hinge broke on a cupboard door and the door fell on to my shin like a guillotine. It left a gaping hole in my leg.

“I went to my local hospital, and they tried every conventional treatment on offer to get it to heal. District nurses were coming to my house all the time and used gels, honey, every kind of bandage imaginable, but even months later it wasn’t really getting better. “ When they suggested the maggots I thought they were joking. I’m not at all squeamish but I admit I cringed a bit when I saw them. I was in so much pain, though, and so fed up with my bad leg that anything was worth a try. The maggots were put in a sealed bag and attached to my leg so I couldn’t see them — but I definitely knew they were there. They seemed to become active at certain times of the day and I’d experience a tickling sensation, which I assume is when they were hungry and eating my skin. It’s strange to think that they were alive when they arrived and very much alive — and fatter — when they left. They grew 1cm during the time I had them on (about a week) but I am proof that they work.

“Within a couple of weeks my wound had healed. My friends now call me Marlene Maggot. I would recommend this treatment to anyone. I can’t believe the difference it has made.” [More]

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