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How Maggot Therapy Works

Maggots, MRSA and Diabetes

Based on the bulk of news coverage, antibiotic-resistant bacteria might seem a recent occurrence, one that began in the 1990s [sources: Arnold]. Actually, microbe strains sporting genetic defenses against antimicrobial agents began cropping up within a few short years of their medical debuts in the late 1930s and 1940s. In the 2010s, the problem has reached crisis levels [source: Davies and Davies].

Chronic wounds are one area particularly at risk for infections, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and hospital-acquired Pseudomonas infections. Treatment of these serious conditions involves isolating patients and exposing them to long, aggressive courses of antibiotics – a pricey prospect for the patient and a logistically taxing one for the hospital [source: Jones et al.].

Clearly, we need an alternative, one that destroys bacteria while helping to heal the stubborn wound. Enter the humble maggot.

Essentially, maggots change a chronic wound, one that drags on and on without healing, into an acute one in which the healing process can take hold. They do this by speeding up debridement, the removal of dead or tainted tissue, and granulation, the formation of lumpy, pink flesh holding new connective tissue and capillaries, necessary for healing. Maggots do this at a scale surgeons cannot reach, without calling for costly operating rooms or surgical staff [source: Jones et al.].

This blend of savings, success and easy access has inspired doctors to turn to maggots in countries like Kenya, where financial concerns make antibiotics or hospital visits a last resort for most residents [source: Soy].

Maggots have also proven their worth in treating the open sores, or ulcers, linked to diseases like diabetes. In diabetes, blood glucose levels rise too high because cells lack insulin or have problems using it. In some cases, diabetics develop poor circulation, or a loss of feeling in the foot called neuropathy. Both conditions can contribute to ulcer formation. High glucose levels only make matters worse, impeding the body's attempts to heal ulcers or fight infection [source: APMA].

Roughly 15 percent of diabetics will develop foot ulcers, and 14-24 percent of those patients will need an amputation [source: APMA]. Faced with these odds, it's not so strange that some patients find it in themselves to set aside their jitters and tolerate a few maggoty medics, especially as new tools make the process simpler and at least a little more palatable.