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Paging the maggots

March 19, 2009 |  4:01 pm

A clinical trial in the U.K. has found that maggots can play a significant role in healthcare: They are just as good at cleaning certain kinds of wounds as standard hydrogel dressings.

Maggot_2 Sterile fly larvae were applied to leg ulcers that were at least 25% covered in dead tissue. Once in contact with necrotic skin, the maggots got busy -- and fast. Loose larvae were able to debride (or clean) a wound in an average of 14 days, while bagged larvae took 28 days. By comparison, patients treated with hydrogel had to wait an average of 72 days for debridement to be complete.

The advantage dissipated when it came to measuring the time needed for wounds to heal completely. Maggots took an average of 236 days, compared to an average of 245 days for hydrogel. The difference wasn’t statistically significant.

The study, involving 267 patients in 18 medical centers, reported one drawback to the larvae treatment (besides the gross-out factor). Removal of maggots after the first stage of treatment was rated as twice as painful as removal of hydrogel. The researchers recommend that doctors consider larvae therapy if their goal is to clean a wound quickly in preparation for a skin graft or other surgery.

The results were published online today in the British Medical Journal.

-- Karen Kaplan

Photo: This vial contains 20,000 maggot eggs for treating severe wounds. Credit: Karen Tapia / Los Angeles Times