Maggots have been used to help treat wounds for thousands of years. Their use declined with the advent of antibiotics. Now, they seem to be making a comeback because of the alarming increase in antibiotic-resistant infections. Maggots may reduce the risk of wound infection because the larvae secrete substances that fight infection.
In the new study of 119 people with non-healing wounds, maggot therapy worked quicker than conventional surgical wound-cleaning during the first week only. There was no significant added benefit by day 15, though.
During the surgical procedure, the area is numbed and the unhealthy tissue in the wound is cut away. Some maggot therapy practitioners place the maggots directly on the wound, where they remove dead tissue. In the new study, however, about 80 maggots were placed in a dressing over the wound twice a week for two weeks.
Donald S. Waldorf, MD, a dermatologist in Nanuet, N.Y., has never used maggot therapy, but he has seen them used. “They have been used on wounds since antiquity and especially in wartime,” he says in an email. “Their use seems to come in and out of favor. I can see using them when surgery would be medically difficult in very sick patients who cannot undergo anesthesia or when competent surgeons are not available. They clearly work to get rid of wound debris and may even clear out bacteria that grow on the debris.”
The FDA regulates the use of maggots, and they are only available via prescription here. Surgery is the gold standard, but not all people are candidates. Maggot therapy costs about $100, and some insurers will cover these costs.