Maggots have long been used for medicinal purposes. Facultative parasites are carefully used to clear necrotic tissue from wounds, while healthy tissue surrounding the injury remains unaffected. During the U.S. Civil War, surgeons deliberately used blowfly maggots to clean dead tissue from soldiers.5 The founder of modern maggot therapy is widely considered to be William Baer (1872-1931), an orthopedic surgeon from Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Maryland.1 As a medic in World War I, Baer noticed that maggot activity in the open wounds of injured soldiers did not cause secondary infections. Rather, healthy pink tissue was present.1
Back in the US, Baer began using maggot therapy but discovered that some patients would develop tetanus as a result.1 It was discovered that cultivated maggots would sometimes carry bacterial pathogens. Therefore, Baer developed a method of growing sterilized maggots using a solution of mercurous chloride and acidified alcohol.15
The use of maggot therapy decreased sharply with the rise of antibiotics in the 1940s. In the past decade, medicinal maggots have been rediscovered as alternatives when antibiotics failed. In the mid 1990s, a colony of flies was set up by the Surgical Materials Testing Laboratory in Britain.15
The biochemical basis of maggot therapy is not well understood, but it is thought that maggot movements stimulate the release of antimicrobials from the host. The maggots also play a role in digesting bacteria in the would as well as secreting enzymes to degrade necrotic tissue.15 Recently, it has been found that Proteus mirabilis, found in maggot salivary glands, produces antibacterial substances.5
TABLE: Species of flies used in maggot therapy. Adapted from: Sherman RA, Hall MJ, Thomas S. Medicinal maggots: an ancient remedy for some contemporary afflictions. Annu Rev Entomol. 2000; 45:55-81.
Maggots being used to clear necrotic tissue from a gangrene wound on the heel. Source: http://www.ucihs.uci.edu/com/pathology/sherman/myiasis.htm
Medicinal maggots being used to clear necrotic tissue from the leg. Source: Sherman RA, Hall MJ, Thomas S. Medicinal maggots: an ancient remedy for some contemporary afflictions. Annu Rev Entomol. 2000; 45:55-81.
For much more information about maggot therapy, please explore the following resources...
Sherman RA, Hall MJ, Thomas S. Medicinal maggots: an ancient remedy for some contemporary afflictions. Annu Rev Entomol. 2000; 45:55-81.
Surgical Materials Testing Laboratory (UK), Biosurgical Research Unit: Introduction to Maggot Therapy