Like most insects, flies undergo a complete metamorphosis from egg to adult through the larval and pupal stages. Most fly species are maggot-shaped in the larval stage. The main purpose of these limbless maggots is to consume whatever they can eat to grow up to 100 times the size they hatched.
The special maggots we will talk about are the larvae of species also known as blue or green bottle flies or carrion flies (Calliphoridae). Most of us have seen them crawling on rotting meat or pet droppings. But some of these species are seen as medical miracles, far from being harmful. The idea of maggots crawling on wounds may not sound good, but debridement therapy (removing all foreign matter from the wound) or treatment with larvae (worms) has long been used in medicine.
According to a legend, Genghis Khan, the founder of the greatest empire in history, carried a cartload of maggots to treat his wounded soldiers during his Asian expeditions. The maggots placed on the wounds feed on the dead and decaying tissue around them, not the living tissue. Obviously, the Mongol Emperor Genghis Khan and his armies knew that these maggots kept wounds clean by eating infected tissue.
It Wasn’t Just The Mongols Who Used This Method.
There is evidence that the Ngiyampa aboriginal tribe living in the state of New South Wales in southeastern Australia, those living in the mountainous region of northern Myanmar and the Mayas of Central America also used this method.
American Civil War Era
Cleaning the purulent wound was common practice. But in general medicine, this method was not popular for a long time. It took another war to get attention again. Surgeon John Forney Zacharias, who worked for a while at a hospital in the eastern city of DanVille during the American Civil War, focused on this method. He was the first in the modern world to purposely use maggots to clean rotten tissue, and he achieved what he called “great satisfaction” with good results. The maggots had also removed the bacteria from the wounds.
Antibiotics And Antibiotic Resistant Bacteria
However, this work was soon stalled as researchers such as Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur drew attention to hygiene in wounds and the use of maggots seemed contradictory.
With the advent of penicillin with Alexander Fleming, this practice apparently fell into history. Because who would want maggots lurking in wounds when a simple pill could work? But the magic antibiotics were losing their battle with the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that emerged in the 1980s, commonly known as MRSA.
A new weapon was needed to combat these super-bacteria spreading in hospitals. And back to maggots in the treatment of wounds.And these maggots were ideal, not only because they removed dead tissue from the wound, but also because they destroyed resistant bacteria like MRSA.
Maggot treatment is a treatment available to everyone in the UK at the National Health Service (NHS) because it is fast, efficient and very effective. For those who find the idea of maggots crawling in their wounds repulsive, it may be comforting to know that they are now applied in packs that look like little tea bags.
This article was compiled from the BBC Reel video titled “Why maggots are a medical marvel”. Metin, curator of the Natural History Museum in England and entomologist (entomologist) Dr. Written by Erica McAlister.