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An Aussie Researcher Insists Maggots Are the Best Way to Heal Wounds

Got an infected scab? Try letting fly larvae eat away the dead flesh.

by Gavin Butler
12 November 2018, 8:45am

Image via Flickr user rjp; cropped; CC licence 2.0

This article originally appeared on VICE AU.

Dr Frank Stadler wants to see more maggots in hospitals. For the past three years, the Griffith University researcher has been studying the health benefits of flesh-eating larvae and the medicinal benefits of “maggot therapy.” That is, the introduction of live maggots into non-healing wounds.

Clinical professionals have been sticking grubs in people’s festering wounds since at least World War One, and there are about 1300 centres around the US, UK, and Europe that currently offer the treatment. In Australia, Sydney’s Westmead Hospital is the only supplier of sterile maggots, the ABC reports—often used as a last resort treatment for patients who have exhausted all other options. But Frank wants that to change: he wants the practice to become a go-to remedy for people around the country who are suffering chronic wounds.

“Maggots are fantastic,” he says. “They eat all the dead and decaying tissue in the wound… [and] remove bacteria by eating them and digesting them, and through their excretions and secretions that they place into the wound.”

Frank explains that these “anti-microbial” properties of the humble maggot keep the infection under control and allow the body to properly heal the wound. The process is known as “debridement”: the removal of dead or infected tissue that in turn improves the healing potential of the healthy tissue. The maggot then disinfects the wound by secreting anti-bacterial substances, and stimulates the production of new, fresh capillaries over the top.

It is, in Frank’s words, a “life and limb-saving” practice—and one that he suggests will only become more valuable as patients’ resistance to antibiotics increases. "Penicillin is losing its potency in the era of antibiotic resistance," he points out. "Maggot therapy has been efficient in antibiotic resistant infections like staph infections."

The maggots used in therapy are sterile, harvested from a pre-established fly colony, and typically the treatment itself involves the larvae being applied directly to the affected area and held in place under a fly screen-like dressing. Dermatologist website Dermnet NZ explains that this can be a painful process, especially as the maggots fatten up on all that dead flesh and grow in the scab. Moreover, they warn that “wounds should never be allowed to close over the maggots.” After only two to four days of chowing down, all maggots need to be removed. But the results, says Frank, are “fantastic”.

"In many cases today when people present to hospital with maggot-infested wounds, the health care professionals have to admit that the wounds look perfect," he says. "They look fine."