Maggots, Worms: Scary Medicine Goes Mainstream
Offbeat treatments, both old and new, are 'eeek-ing' their way into more common practice.
Maggots Heal Deep Wounds
You've gotta love 'em. Maggots have a big job, and they're good at it -- eating dead skin and tissue, whether it's on roadkilled animals or a living human being. In the early 20th century, maggots were used to treat human bone and tissue infections.
It's called maggot therapy, and it involves larvae called Phaenica sericata. The larvae are disinfected before they're used, so they won't make an infection worse. Twice a week, the larvae are placed on a wound and left there for 48 to 72 hours. The maggots only eat the dead tissue, leaving healthy tissue intact, a process called debridement.
The maggot larvae are thought to secrete substances that fight infection.
New research has revived maggot therapy. In a recent study, wounds that got presurgical maggot therapy developed no infections after surgery, according to the report in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases.
When wounds didn't get maggot therapy, about one-third developed an infection. Also, surgical closure of those wounds fell apart.
Gila Monster Spit Helps Diabetes
It's true, spit from the Gila monster -- a less-than-friendly lizard -- has medical use.
A drug derived from Gila monster saliva appears to help people with type 2 diabetes gain control over their blood sugar. It's a welcome alternative when other commonly used drugs have failed to work.
Another plus: The new drug, called Byetta, may help drop a few pounds. Some other diabetes drugs can cause weight gain, a big frustration for people trying to control their diabetes.
The medication works by stimulating insulin secretion in response to high blood sugars. Byetta also inhibits glucagon, a hormone that helps increase blood sugars.
Worm Eggs Ease Stomach Problems
Swallowing live worm eggs? The thought may turn your stomach. But the eggs may safely relieve the abdominal distress caused by inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are two major components of IBD that cause inflammation and ulcers in the lining of the digestive tract.
In underdeveloped countries with poor sanitary conditions, IBD is practically nonexistent. Researchers have speculated that it's because parasitic worms are abundant, living in the intestines of humans and animals. Even in the U.S., before plumbing and sanitation improved, there was little IBD.