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Maggots May Help Heal Hard-to-Treat Wounds

Maggots May Help Heal Hard-to-Treat Wounds

Maggots prove successful at closing the wounds resulting from diabetes…

When it comes to treating wounds insects are not the first thing that spring to mind, but for those suffering from wounds caused by diabetes, maggots may offer one of the quickest and most effective way to help heal wounds.

The new small study, which involved 37 people with diabetes who had wounds that had been open for several months to five years, found that while the maggots did not completely close the wounds, “there was 50% or more closure,” explained researcher Lawrence Eron, MD, of the University of Hawaii. The research also found that the maggots also disinfect the wound and stimulate healing.

To treat the patients, doctors place 50 to 100 maggots in a mesh bag and apply the bag to the wounds for around two days. After that time the maggots appear fatter from the feeding and the wounds are visibly more healed. Five of the participants experienced discomfort, which was easily treated with acetaminophen, and one patient stopped the treatment due to pain. But overall the treatment was effective in 27 of the 37 participants.

Eron admits that the treatment may seem a little disgusting, however he says the patients generally welcomed the sensation, as many previously had no feeling at all in the area of their wounds.

Researchers still aren’t exactly sure how maggots achieve their medical healing abilities, but they theorize an antibacterial effect is at work. It seems that the maggots excrete substances that boost the body’s immune system and stimulate the growth of new blood vessels, he says.

medical grade maggots Maggots May Help Heal Hard to Treat Wounds

Medical-Grade Maggots

Medical-grade maggots are fly larvae grown in a laboratory to ensure they are germ free. When placed on the wound of a patient, the maggots eat the dead flesh, without harming the live tissue.

Maggots have been used in medicine for centuries, however with the invention of antibiotics, the use of medical maggots declined. However, with antibiotic-resistant infections on the rise, researchers are once again turning to fly larvae to heal wounds.

At the recent Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, 17-20th September, Eron showed before-and-after photos of a patient who had a gangrenous foot ulcer that was treated using maggots. Prior to the treatment, doctors had wanted to amputate the leg.

“These little critters may allow [patients] to heal and avoid amputation or at least delay it so they can live the rest of their lives with their limbs intact,” [WebMD]

An estimated 25.8 million people, 8.3% of the population, have diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. In 2006, about 65,700 lower-limb amputations were performed as a result of diabetes.

Maggot therapy costs around $500, compared to the $10,000 it costs to treat uninfected foot ulcer in a person with diabetes, or $50,000 if amputation is required. All costs aside, Catherine Bennett, PhD, head of the School of Health and Social Development at the Deakin University Australia in Burwood, Australia explains that the main advantage of maggot therapy is that it “gets us around the problem of antibiotic resistance.”

Despite the positive findings experts agreed more research, and larger trials are needed to confirm these results.


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  1. Charlene Laino: Maggots May Help Heal Hard-to-Treat Wounds. WebMD, 2011.

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