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Last updated on April 24, 2014 at 11:23 EDT

Experts Question Effectiveness Of Maggot Therapy

March 20, 2009

A UK study suggests that flesh-eating maggots may not have the miracle healing properties that have been claimed, Reuters reported.

Results from the world’s first controlled clinical trial of maggot medicine showed on Friday that while they do clean wounds more quickly than normal treatment, it does not lead to faster healing.

The study said some patients also found so-called larval therapy more painful.

The maggot’s history in modern medicine spans back to the days of Napoleon and they were often used to treat wounds during the American Civil War and in the trenches in World War One.

The healing powers of the maggot have seen more attention from medical experts over the last few years, namely their potential to prevent dangerous infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

A team of experts at Britain’s University of York treated 267 patients with venous leg ulcers using maggots or hydrogel, a standard wound-cleaning product.

No significant differences were noted in the time it took the ulcer to heal between the two treatments or in quality of life.

Maggots were not more effective than hydrogel treatment at reducing the amount of bacteria present or in getting rid of MRSA and were, on average, associated with more pain.

Researcher Nicky Cullum told Reuters maggot therapy doesn’t seem to be worth pursuing in that particular group of patients, if the aim is for quicker healing.

Further clinical studies will be needed to tell whether maggots may yet have advantages in some specialized areas, such as preparing patients for skin grafts, where faster wound cleaning means patients can be moved into surgery faster.

Maggots eat only dead and rotting tissue during larval therapy, leaving a clean wound. They prefer to eat each other when they run out of food rather than burrow into healthy flesh.

Cullum, the deputy head of health sciences at the University of York, told BBC News the resurgence in interest in using maggots had been “premature”.

“The ulcers treated with larval therapy did get cleaner – which is not surprising as they’re an active debriding agent – but that rapid cleaning did not lead to rapid healing,” she said.

The British Medical Journal study is the first to compare maggots with standard treatment.

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