LONDON, England — The medical use of maggot therapy was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004. Maggot therapy has been used as far back as the ancient world, but it has evolved into a more advanced technique in the present medical community. Now, the United Kingdom is using maggot therapy in war-torn areas like Syria, where there is little access to traditional medical treatments, may save lives.
Treating Poorly Healing Wounds
Situations such as necrosis, where an area of the body does not receive a healthy amount of blood, are referred to as poorly healing wounds
. They are most common in diabetics, but anyone can develop these wounds. When necrotic tissue begins to grow, it becomes the optimal breeding ground for bacteria to grow because, without the antibacterial defenses that are provided through regular blood flow, bacteria can easily invade the body. The bacteria eventually infect the wound and result in sepsis of the whole body, ultimately killing the victim.
These immature insects are applied to dead tissues and infected flesh in order to clean out the wounds. It has been discovered that the maggots thrive the best in poorly healing wounds as it only takes one fly to land on an infected area and a few seconds for it to lay hundreds of eggs. The food supply for these baby insects is simply dead tissue. Inserting them in a new environment for them to feast as newly born creatures allows them to grow on dead, rotting flesh.
How the Process Works
As they crawl through healthy and dead tissue, the spines on their skin rake the tissue and separate dead from living tissue. As they naturally look for the most rotten flesh, their precision in removing the dead from the living flesh is safer and gentler than a scalpel employed by surgeons. The baby flies break down their food by secreting enzymes on the dead flesh, which it liquefies the tissue.
This process makes it easier for the maggots to go through their food supply in a more efficient, effective way. However, these liquefying enzymes only affect dead tissue, so the healthy flesh is completely safe. Maggots have also evolved to be resistant to bacteria, and their stomachs are able to kill the most resistant bacteria that exist. Additionally, they are able to secret unique chemicals to kill the bacteria as well.
Physician Ron Sherman studied the use of maggot therapy on poorly healing wounds. His results found that 80 percent of the wounds that were cleaned using maggots were free of dead tissue compared to the 48 percent of wounds that were cleaned using traditional methods. Furthermore, the wounds cleaned out by the maggots healed faster than the flesh that was treated by the traditional methods.
Maggot Therapy as Foreign Aid
The United Kingdom has taken this new innovation and is bringing it to the next level. The U.K. government is providing international aid in the form of maggot therapy
by sending the insects to crisis zones such as Syria, Yemen and South Sudan to effectively clean wounds. This initiative will help develop new medical techniques to help people in unstable living conditions affected by humanitarian crises to learn to use maggots when other medical and traditional methods may not be available. The project is being financed by the U.K., the U.S. and Dutch governments.
This $250,000 project will have the chance to save limbs as well since necrosis can lead to bone infections and amputations. Those living in conflict and humanitarian crisis areas are suffering from diseases and injuries that are often easily curable and treatable; however, without proper or sufficient medical equipment and personnel, many die due to lack of access to care.
The Use of Maggots in Hospitals
The U.K. will be building field hospitals in some of these unstable areas to raise sterile maggots on location. After a day or two, the maggots will be applied directly on wounds by being wrapped in bandages. In the interest of preventing the spread of disease, after one use
, the maggots will be transported in clinical containers and released into the wild once they transform into flies. There is no worry if some happen to escape because they undergo sterilization one they transform into flies.
Maggot therapy is just now gaining traction in the medical community and progressively being accepted as a treatment; however, it is important to keep in mind that the psychological state of the patient must be strong as well. Those who opt to be treated using maggot therapy often report anxiety attacks and being disturbed. They are able to feel the maggots crawling in their skin, which may lead to restlessness and panic, worsening their condition.
U.K. scientists estimate that approximately 250 wounds will be treated per day by maggot therapy. Many major governments are not only funding the use of maggots but also providing humanitarian aid in the form of raising and sending them to humanitarian crisis areas. This process could be a temporary solution to the lack of medical access in some of these countries. New medical innovations and advancements are changing the lives of those affected by unstable, humanitarian catastrophes.
– Aria Ma