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MRSA: Believe it or Not - Maggots as the Cure?


Put away the expensive antibiotic gels? Maggots might be the best cure for superbug MRSA infections. A University of Manchester team treated diabetic foot ulcers with green bottle fly larvae, Lucila seicata, and 12 out of 13 were cured within 3 weeks with no adverse reactions. Conventional treatment takes 28 weeks. Known as Maggot Debridement Therapy (MDT), it is the medical use of maggots for cleaning non-healing wound. Researchers in the US at the University of California, Irvine use the common blow fly, Phaenica sericata. Veterinarians are now using MDT to treat non-healing wounds in their patients - especially horses.

"Maggots are the world's smallest surgeons," according to Professor Andrew Boulton, head researcher. His team has been using maggots to treat diabetic foot ulcers for a decade. Other researchers in the UK have been experimenting with maggots for years. "You cannot say maggots are high tech and shiny, but they sure are effective," says Dr. Stephen Thomas, director of Biosurgery at Princess of Wales Hospital. The treatment, known as biologic debridement, is used quietly in the US to treat pressure ulcers in the elderly, using sterile maggots. Limitations to this type of therapy are limited access to sterile larvae and the psychological repugnance patients have towards using it. Clinical trials using maggot therapy for non-healing lower extremity ulcers in diabetic patients have been done here in the US but so far it is not used routinely. Use of Medical Maggots is regulated by the FDA and available by prescription only as a medical device in the care and treatment of wounds.

In 2006, 30,000 National Health Service (NHS) patients in the UK had maggots applied to their wounds. Civilizations have been using this therapy since the beginning of time - by the Mayan Indians and aborigines of Australia. American Civil War Army surgeons began using blowfly maggots to clean battle wounds and promote healing. The maggots produce enzymes which break down necrotic tissue, allowing clean, healthy tissue to grow. The green bottle fly larvae aren't the big, old things we are used to seeing in the garbage from the common house fly - the larvae are smaller than a grain of rice.

We might want to get used to critters as being beneficial to us. Leeches are being used again in microsurgery for reattachment of skin and body part. This is especially significant with injuries to or amputation of the penis where venous congestion of the shaft skin can interfere with reattachment postoperatively. Leeches reduce incidence of swelling and hematoma. Parasitic helminth worms, introduced into patients with Crohn's disease (who swallow them), help with recovery. Bug therapy is cost effective - the bugs are cheap and labor saving aids to treatment.

Thank you Ronald A. Sherman, MD, MSc, DTM&H for use of photo of maggots.
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The Healthline Editorial team writes about the latest health news, policy, and research.

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