Flesh eating life savers

Leslie Verdugo, Features Editor

Medicine and medical treatments have come a long way. Today’s modern medicine consists of antibiotics, surgery, and better education on living a healthy lifestyle. However, what do doctors turn to when conventional methods fail? There is a natural and efficient way to clean one’s wounds which not many would think or even dream about, and that is through the use of maggots and leeches. It is curious how creatures that make most cringe are actually beneficial to people. Such treatments as maggot therapy and leech therapy have been employed for centuries around the world.
Leeches are freshwater parasites with suckers on each end that hook onto a host to gorge itself on blood. Not the most appealing description, yet these organisms have proved to be useful. Their use was documented in ancient Egyptian medicine for curing fevers, and Europeans have employed them in their medicinal arsenal. Today they are a surgeon’s valued tool. The leech produces a special saliva that prevents the blood from clotting and promotes circulation in order to feed. This is helpful to prevent the loss of limbs and even treat fatal blood circulation disorders. They are used to help save fingers, toes, ears, scalp reattachments, limb transplants, and breast reconstruction. Microsurgeons value the anti-clotting agent because for decades it had been impossible to reattach limbs for the capillaries and small veins clotted too early. With the saliva they can keep the blood circulating as they prep to reattach the limb.
Maggots are another gruesome last resort tool that doctors today use. During the early 1900s  maggots were used for war wounds when antibiotics were yet to be fully developed. As soon as antibiotics gained more popularity the use of medicinal maggots was shelved. Bacteria has recently been growing more resistant to antibiotics, so the use of maggots is rising. Ronald A. Sherman (Co-founder and Laboratory Director of Monarch Labs) sells medicinal maggots to hospitals, and he said,”In 2011, an estimated 50,000 treatments (bottles)of maggots were sent out by approximately 24 laboratories in 30 countries.” Maggots are used to treat leg ulcers, burns, postoperative wounds that festered, and other wounds. According to Sherman, each vial contains approximately 250-500 maggots; large vials contain around 500-1000. Five to ten larvae are placed on each square centimeter of a wound for 48 to 78 hours under a dressing. The larvae eat the necrotizing flesh by using their digestive juices to liquefy the matter and then consume it.

Print Friendly