Dr. Baer returned to Baltimore after the war and treated many of his patients with maggot therapy. He found that the wounds would be cleaner and more free of dead tissue and infection than with regular treatments. Other doctors followed his lead.
Maggots have been used throughout history for medicinal purposes. Surgeons in Napoleon's armies used maggots to treat battle wounds. In the Civil War Dr. Zacharias of the Confederacy treated injuries with maggots. He recorded his use of maggots and said that the survival rate for the soldiers he treated had an unusually high survival rate. Even the movie Gladiator showed a gladiator being successfully healed by the use of maggots.
Maggot therapy was widely used in the United States until antibiotics were readily available in the 1940's. Because it was much easier to give a shot or a pill, maggot therapy was abandoned.
Then came drug-resistant bacteria. None of the known antibiotics seem to work on these. And there are people who are allergic to the antibiotics. Bone marrow infections and MRSA the flesh-eating bacteria are particularly hard for doctors to heal. Enter maggot therapy.
Medicinal maggots are grown in extremely controlled environments. They are kept disease free. The eggs are thoroughly washed before they hatch to insure healthy maggots.
The maggots used are usually from the blowfly. After the egg stage of this insect comes the larva stage. The larvae are called maggots. Blowfly larvae are not known to eat healthy flesh. Instead they feed on dead and diseased matter.
Now before you try this at home...DON'T! First you have to know exactly which fly larva you're dealing with. Some species prefer live flesh. Then you have to know what to do with them. If you don't you could cause more problems. Check with a doctor to see if maggot therapy will help whatever condition you want to take care of.
The normal way to use medicinal maggots is to apply 5 to 10 maggots to each square centimeter of wound. They are kept in place by a special bandage designed to keep them in place while allowing plenty of oxygen for the critters. They are left to feed for no more than two days. Any longer and they will hatch. They are applied when they are newly hatched and grow to large sizes as they feed.
After all the maggots are removed the affected area is carefully cleaned. They need to make sure that none of them have burrowed into a hiding place. Hopefully only pink healthy tissue will remain. Sometimes more applications are needed.
British physicians have developed a tea bag type of packet so that the maggots don't range free. It's easier to clean up. There are some indications that it doesn't work quite as well as directly applying them to the wound.
Some people report varying degrees of discomfort as the maggots feed. One study says that about 75 to 80% of the wounds treated by maggots recover fully as well or better than using more common methods. Some doctors believe the wound is slightly larger after the therapy.
Besides eating unhealthy tissue the maggots secrete fluids that have an antibiotic effect. The bad tissue seems to be treated in the digestive tract of the maggot and neutralized.
If you have a wound that doesn't seem to heal even with a doctor's care or if you are allergic to antibiotics, you can ask your doctor if maggot therapy will help your condition.