Giving thanks to maggots

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(Host) Think maggots are too revolting for parlour conversation? Commentator Ruth Page sure doesn’t — and is happy to tell you her reasons.

(Page) For a real day-brightener, let’s talk about maggots. Yes, fly maggots: those writhing masses of repellent little white worms that cause you to make a Yuck face and turn away. You shouldn’t, you know. You may need them some day — and, indeed, might have cause to be very grateful for their help.

I’ve spoken of maggot use in the past, but people seem to forget, possibly finding it too distasteful to store in their brains’ memory banks.

Once again, hospitals are finding blowfly maggots essential to cleaning up infected wounds. Antibiotics had once replaced them. Antibiotics, however, lost their power, over time, as bacteria developed defenses against them; and labs are constantly fighting to try to create new antibiotics faster than the germs can evolve defenses. They don’t always succeed.

Maggots will remove infected and dead tissue efficiently and leave the wound clean and infection-free. Napoleon learned this by watching wounded soldiers in the field; others have made a serendipitous discovery when a lone person is injured and left lying in a ditch, or hidden by grass, for a couple of days before being located. Their raw injuries are often being cleaned or have already been cleaned by maggots. This greatly improves their chances of recovery.

Surgical wounds? Burns? The dreadful flesh-eating bacteria recently described in the press? Maggots can help in these cases, too. It isn’t unusual for hospital patients to get bedsores; often maggots can stop infection in them; they also clean up skin ulcers that can lead to loss of part, or all, or a toe or even a foot. Diabetics’ feet need great care, in spite of which quite a few patients have lost toes or had a foot amputated because of ulcers.

“Science News” describes one such patient who happened to have heard about the powers of maggots. When her physicians said she would have to have her foot amputated, she flatly refused and called for maggot therapy. The physician put blowfly maggots in the wound and bandaged over them; each two days he put in a fresh supply (after all, maggots are larvae headed to adulthood). This went on for several weeks; the wound was beautifully cleaned; and the patient kept her foot.

War experiences in the late 1880s and pre-World War II 1900s led doctors to adopt maggot therapy fairly widely, but the advent of antibiotics shoved them out of sight. Now, with FDA approval, they are marketed as medical devices. I’m all for it.

This is Ruth Page, suggesting that when Nature can help keep us clean and healthy, we should encourage her, even if her methods seem repulsive to our eyes.

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