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
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
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
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
In one recent study, seven people with IBD swallowed a solution containing
thousands of eggs of Trichuris suis, which is known as a
"whipworm." Every two weeks, they got doses of the solution -- with
great results, reports lead researcher Robert W. Summers, MD, a
gastroenterologist with the University of Iowa College of Medicine.
Some of the patients have been taking the worm egg solution "for years
now and are doing well," Summers says.