Recently, the mention of Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) came up in my office as a way to make fun of Zach‘s recent allergic reaction to some dry cleaning. Obviously, I was initially plotting which objects I would acquire upon his death, but when I realized that if he died, I would also gain his project list. My mind immediately went to treatments for the MRSA condition. Enter: Maggot Therapy.
Wikipedia states the following about Maggot Therapy:
Maggot therapy (also known as Maggot Debridement Therapy (MDT), larval therapy, larva therapy, or larvae therapy) is a type of biotherapy involving the intentional introduction by a health care practitioner of live, disinfected maggots (fly larvae) into the non-healing skin and soft tissue wound(s) of a human or animal for the purpose of selectively cleaning out only the necrotic (dead) tissue within a wound in order to promote wound healing.
What They Do
Mmmm…maggots writhing over open wounds and dissolving dead flesh. Sounds gross? Well…it is. But here’s the deal; they do 3 things that are helpful to wounds:
- Debride necrotic (dead) tissue from the wound. Dead tissue is a breeding ground for bacteria and can lead to gangrene.
- Secretions from the maggots kill numerous bacteria and many not killed by the secretions are ingested by the larva. This is the key component for use on people with MRSA simply because the maggots can kill the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that antibiotics cannot!
- Enhanced wound healing properties. Maggot secretions have been shown by some instances to “amplify the epidermal growth factor.”
This source states that “Historically, maggots have been known for centuries to help heal wounds. Many military surgeons noted that soldiers whose wounds became infested with maggots did better — and had a much lower mortality rate — than did soldiers with similar wounds not infested.”
Despite the awesome properties of disinfected fly larva, there are some limitations on maggot therapy as Wikipedia states:
- Maggots have a short shelf life which prevents long term storage before use.
- Patients and doctors may find maggots distasteful, although studies have shown that this does not cause patients to refuse the offer of maggot therapy. Maggots can be enclosed in opaque polymer bags to hide them from sight.
- Dressings must be designed to prevent any maggots from escaping, while allowing air to get to the larvae. Dressings are also designed to minimize the uncomfortable tickling sensation that the maggots often cause.
- The maggots are sometimes painful to patients with ischemic wounds, possibly because they anchor to the tissue.
Now, if you have a nasty, gaping, non-healing wound, I’d highly urge you to not go to the nearest trash heap and start applying any larvae that can be found lurking amongst the waste. The US Food and Drug Administration currently regulates maggots as a prescription only device, and as I stated before, the maggots used are “clean” maggots provided by Medicinal Maggot Companies like Monarch Labs or Zoo Biotic.
Overall, the disgusting baby flies are suddenly a little cooler. If you want to read up a bit more on the topic, check out this this NY Times article, or this document or this one.
Text is nice…but videos are awesome:
National Geographic Video
Of course, you could always watch this National Geographic video (note: don’t watch this over lunch):
Additionally, here’s a testimonial of a guy that risked amputation of his leg from a serious knee infection that refused to heal…maggot therapy helped him nicely. His description of the whole process is really detailed informative. This testimonial video is an account of a woman whose feet were saved a from amputation. Pretty awesome stuff.