Doctors Prescribe Maggots to Heal Diabetics’ Wounds

Maggots help heal diabetic wounds
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Physicians in Hawaii are employing a novel approach to facilitate wound healing for their diabetic patients. Diabetics often suffer from poor circulation to their lower extremities which can cause tissue damage and tissue death. Physicians traditionally treat these wounds by removing the dead tissue with the hope that healthy tissue will grow and allow the injuries to heal. Unfortunately, these chronic wounds may take months or years to heal, if they ever do heal. Ultimately, some people with diabetes may lose their limbs due to amputation if the healing process fails.

Dr. Lawrence Eron, a physician affiliated with the University of Hawaii and Kaiser Hospital, recognized the need to clean out these wounds, speed healing and hopefully prevent long-term damage. His team treated 37 diabetic patients by placing live maggots into the damaged tissue.

Maggots release digestive substances into damaged tissue that breaks down the unhealthy edges of the wounds. The maggots then consume the liquefied tissue, effectively cleaning the wound. The maggots encourage the development of healthy tissue formation and healing.

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The researchers placed 50 to 100 maggots into the patients’ wounds and covered the wounds and the maggots with a nylon material to keep the maggots from escaping. The maggots were replaced every two days and the average patient had 10 days of treatment.

Of the 37 patients treated with maggots, maggots helped heal 21 of them. The maggots cleaned their wounds and facilitated significant healing. Interestingly, the maggots were effective at treating wounds infected with highly dangerous bacteria, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, also known as MRSA, and group B streptococcus. Effective non-medication treatment of infections caused by these types of bacteria is encouraging in the face of growing antibiotic resistance.

Diabetes is a significant and growing health problem in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes. Of these patients, more than five million diabetics in America suffer from diabetes-related wounds annually. Fifteen percent of Americans with diabetes suffer from chronic, long-term wounds and 60,000 will require amputation. Chronic wounds cause extreme morbidity for patients with diabetes and utilize a significant amount of health care dollars and resources.

The humble maggot appears to provide an effective treatment mechanism for chronic wounds. Dr. Eron notes that patients may experience some hesitation when offered maggots as a treatment plan. After thorough consent, however, some patients choose this as a treatment option. Long-term chronic wounds cause not only quality of life issues, but potential permanent disability. As part of the health care team, maggots effectively debride these wounds and fight infections and seem to be just what the doctor ordered.

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

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Comments

I've worked with maggots before. Wait! That sounded wrong. I mean, in ICU, as a nurse, my patient had maggots to clean their wound. Of course, they're sterile and come from a lab. They do good work!