According to a new study released by French scientists in the Archives of Dermatology, maggots may be the best tool known to man for healing large, infected wounds quickly. Whether they confer any real long-term benefits, however, is another question.
In Western medicine, doctors have traditionally used a combination of razor-sharp scalpels and enzyme solutions to excise portions of dead or infected wound tissue, a process known as ℠debridement´ in medical jargon.
Yet as medical experts know, this method can be both extremely incredibly time-consuming and dangerously ineffective.
While the ancient world was well aware of the healing potential of the maggots, modern physicians have shied from the practice of using the loathsome critters.
However, the French study has indicated that the species Lucilia sericata has a particularly hi-tech method of disposing of human tissue that may prove more effective in cleaning wounds than those used in current medical practice.
According to researchers, the larvae of the common green bottle fly releases a biological substance into the wound that selectively liquefies dead and infected tissue, allowing the maggot to then ingest it.
The study examined two groups of 50 hospital patients, all of whom suffered from large venous ulcers on their legs. Over a period of two weeks the first group received traditional scalpel-enzyme wound treatment while the second was treated with sterile maggots which were placed in a small bag and laid on top of the wound.
Patients were not allowed to see which treatment they were administered, and researchers report that the subjects were not able to detect any difference in terms of pain or crawling sensations.
The study´s results indicated that the wounds on the patients treated with maggots were cleaned about twenty-percent more thoroughly than those cleaned using traditional methods.
However, the initial benefits of maggot cleaning appeared to disappear after about two weeks, and researchers say they were unable to see any significant difference in wound closure between the two groups of patients.
Professor of nursing Nicky Cullum at the University of Manchester believes that this is reason enough to leave the larval insects out of modern medical practice for now.
“If clinicians and patients are primarily aiming to get wounds healed, maggots seem to offer no benefit and therefore are not a good option,” Cullum, who has previously studied the use of maggots in wound care, told Reuters reporter Frederik Joelving.
“Exactly as our previous study, it shows that maggots clean wounds more quickly than conventional treatment but with no benefit on healing,” she explained in an email to Joelving.
Moreover, she says that real-life patients would know that they were being treated with maggots, a fact that would likely make many squeamish. Earlier studies have even indicated that patients who know they are being treated with maggots have the sensation of a more painful experience than those who have their wounds cleaned with a scalpel.
The medicinal use of maggots in the Unites States was approved in 2004, but the practice still remains a rarity.
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