Creepy, Crawly Maggots Are Actually A Medical Powerhouse

Marvellous maggots. Yamni Nigam, Author provided

Danielle Andrew 10 Jan 2017, 20:27

The ConversationMaggots have one goal in life: to feed. They gorge ravenously in order to grow as quickly as possible. Speed is of the essence as they leave behind their vulnerable bodies, and transform from a fat, juicy maggot into a hairy adult, capable of escaping predators.

And their passion for the consumption of dead flesh makes maggots of certain fly species uniquely beneficial to human health. Man is subject to countless ailments, among the most disconcerting and painful of which are open sores and wounds.

Chronic wounds often develop in patients with underlying conditions such as diabetes or vascular disease. These wounds tend to be full of dead and infected tissue, and often become long-standing, non-healing ulcers – desperately unpleasant for patients that suffer with them. In many cases, these wounds can worsen, and sadly necessitate amputation of parts of, or even whole, limbs.

However, the application of clinical grade maggots can turn this around. Used often when all other treatments have failed, newly hatched larvae can turn a stagnant ulcer into a clean and healthy healing wound within a matter of days.

Maggot therapy

Nonetheless, our immediate response to a mass of wriggling maggots is most likely disgust. The thought of willingly inviting them to crawl and feed on our wounded bodies is, for many, profoundly disturbing. In the main, maggots are despised creatures, inviting a plethora of negative emotional responses ranging from squeamishness, disgust and disdain to absolute fear.

Many patients are afraid that the maggots themselves are dirty, and may cause further infection. But maggots are reared under special strict and sterile conditions in specialised laboratories, and in the UK, they are available on prescription, either to be applied freely onto a wound or in sealed net bags.

Maggots are sealed in a bag before being applied to wounds. Yamni Nigam, Author provided

The positive benefits of applying maggots to festering wounds have been known for centuries, dating back to biblical times, and traversing numerous ancient tribes and cultures. Remarkable, you say, but these are modern times and surely we have modern treatments which work just as well? Well, sadly not. There are no wound management treatments which can compete with the multi-actions of living maggots in a wound.

So exactly how marvellous are these tiny wrigglers? Scientists worldwide are still figuring out exactly how maggots do what they do, but what we have found out so far is simply amazing.

Maggots do not have teeth – instead they secrete enzymes which coat and break down dead tissue. Then, by moving their small hooked mouth parts over their meal, they are able to suck up the digested material. So efficient are they at eating, a young maggot can clean up a wound within just two to three days.

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