By Melissa Bailey, Director of Education
Upon working in the chronic wound industry, people either loved talking to me at dinner parties or ran in the other direction! If I’m honest, I, too, realize that words like debridement and slough don’t make for good table conversation. By far, the area of wound care that solicits the best reaction is maggot therapy.
Too often the phrase “maggot therapy” conjures up medieval physicians using leeches to remove infected blood and maggots in medical practice to inflict unnecessary pain and torture upon their patients! The reality, though less shocking, is actually an interesting aspect of wound treatment history. Here’s a short history of the practice and why it is still used today.
The first known doctors to associate maggots with wound healing were military surgeons in charge of battlefield wounds. Doctors quickly noticed that soldiers brought in with maggot-infested wounds fared much better and healed faster than soldiers without the squirmy fly larvae.
In 1929, orthopedic surgeon William Baer took his experiences from the battlefield during World War I and brought them inside the hospital. He became the first to apply maggots to in-patient wounds at Children’s Hospital in Baltimore, Maryland. Soon, more than 1,000 surgeons around the world were using maggot therapy and Baer’s work paved the way for future generations of maggot studies.
Maggots are simply fly larvae, or “baby flies” as some clinicians like to call them to assuage patient doubts about the practice. When it comes to wounds, maggots are master eaters of necrotic (dead) tissue. They only eat the bad tissue that exists in a wound and leave fresh, granulated tissue alone. Even though maggots crawling around in an open wound might look disgusting, their presence is actually a good sign!
In addition to removing necrotic tissue from the wound (a procedure known as debridement) maggots have also been proven to disinfect wounds, promote healing, and inhibit a pesky substance known as biofilm from forming on the wound bed. Maggots are nature’s cleansers, showing up to remove dead tissue and promote healing.
If you are reading this post and pondering whether or not to receive wound care, don’t let maggot therapy scare you! In modern wound care, when and if maggots are used involves a combination of factors. Response of the wound to traditional treatments, patient compliance, and physician preference all come into play. For many physicians, traditional wound treatments are still preferred.
If you have found the idea of maggot therapy oddly intriguing, ask your doctor about the practice! Today’s maggots are raised in a sterile environment and are applied using specially constructed dressings to keep the larvae happily contained.
Before you venture out into the woods looking for fresh maggots, visit one of our centers to meet with our qualified clinical staff. We are always ready to help you find the best therapy to treat your wound.