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Maggots as Good as Regular Leg Ulcer Treatment

Maggots as Good as Regular Leg Ulcer Treatment

Maria Cheng / AP

March 19, 2009

LONDON – In a study testing treatments for leg ulcers, British doctors found that a surprising, yet perhaps revolting, option works just as well as standard treatment: maggots.

If that sounds like a step backward, it’s probably because Europeans first began using maggots to treat wounds about 700 years ago.

Researchers at the University of York studied 267 patients with leg ulcers in the United Kingdom from 2004 to 2007. Patients were either treated with a gel commonly used for ulcers or with maggots.

The maggots were bred in sterile conditions and were about the size of a grain of rice. The insects were either packed into a teabag-sized packet or corralled into the wound with bandages.

Patients who got the maggots healed just as quickly as those who got the gel, but suffered a little more pain in the process. The research, along with another study that said maggots were as cost-effective as the gel, was published Friday in the BMJ, formerly known as the British Medical Journal.

“Maggots definitely work, but this is not the standard of care in any developed country,” said Dr. Harold Brem, a wound expert at New York University Langone Medical Center. Brem was not connected to either BMJ study.

“If you are out in a remote place and don’t have access to a surgeon or good medical care, then maybe maggots are an option,” Brem said.

British doctors found the maggots ate up dead tissue quicker than the gel, though that didn’t speed up the healing. There were similar rates of side effects in both treatments, affecting about 14 percent of patients.

But those who used maggots reported more pain.

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