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Faster Than a Moving Scalpel Doctors Say Maggot Therapy Heals Human Wounds

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Maggots devour lots of stuff but that stuff is usually carcasses and decaying life--not humans trying to stay alive. What most consider some of the foulest creatures on earth are ironically proving to rank among the cleanest. Or at least the cleaners. Doctors say the gross-looking crawlers may clean wounds faster than a scalpel in "maggot therapy".

Maggots crawling on a human are usually a very bad sign. But docs in France believe it can be a very good thing.

In a process dubbed "maggot debridement treatment," things get more than intimate: Crawling bugs are added to a human patient's wound -- since they're proving to be pretty good at getting rid of dead slough tissue. That tissue's gotta go one way or another because it interferes or prevents healing. And that's dangerous. Docs normally use a scalpel or enzymes for the removal job. But researchers in France say maggots may prove even better in eating away at that tissue even faster.

Just a single, female fly can lay up to roughly 150 eggs at a time. And it's not a one-time scenario: Those small suckers can multiply fast, with one fly laying up to about 500 eggs in as little as 72 hours. Excellent laying sources for the larvae include the good stuff that most people avoid like the plague: Things like decomposing food, rotting organic matter or stuff in trash cans, feces and animal waste from those like dogs -- and dead or dying animals or roadkill. They don't exactly have an aversion to dying or dead tissue. And that makes them great candidates for chowing down on slough in wounds that need tissue removal performed quickly.

Diabetic patients at a French hospital were split into groups while treated over a couple of weeks at a French hospital. Fortunately for the recovering patients, no one made them aware in advance about exact methods used in treatment at Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Caen. What has succinctly been named “maggot therapy” may not have been so emotionally healing for the recovering. Those in the study involving diabetes were unaware that while one patient had a leg ulcer treated the traditional way, by scalpel, another instead received crawling maggots on a healing wound.

French researchers believe writhing maggots are ideal for diabetics -- the bug now deemed responsible enough to keep wounds clean and ward off infection in big wounds that battle a fast or easy healing time. In the study maggots ended up removing a lot more of the tissue than their metal counterpart: The crawlers took off about 45-percent of the slough versus just, roughly, 33-percent of the tissue removed for patients instead treated by a doctor's scalpel. But maggots aren't good forever. In two weeks, effectiveness of the slough-killers is minimal to zero. And, like people, some are a better fit for the job.

It takes a specific maggot to perform wound clean-up. The normal housefly just won't do. Maggots in the study -- for medical use -- are solely sterile fly larvae.

Maggot therapy's been around the block. It's not new. But it's more recent uses and study of larvae in medicine is a bit better than the past -- when, just decades ago, the crawling bugs on patients were pretty much limited to last-ditch efforts before amputating human body parts. That scenario is a little creepier and less hopeful than current use of the bugs by doctors.

There's no word yet on how docs ensure those wrigglers don't move to other places, or the patients' fear that they could. There's always been the rumors and myths about how maggots will eat a human's insides if ingested. They don't -- maggots like the dead and dying, not living flesh. But doctors may face an uphill battle in dispelling those nasty rumors before hoping to make the "therapy" a standard.


Centre Hospitalier Universitaire de Caen
27 Avenue Georges Clemenceau 14000 Caen
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