Categories: Health

NHS using maggots to clean wounds to tackle antibiotic resistance

Forget antibiotics, try MAGGOTS! WWI-era wound therapy makes a comeback on the NHS ‘in the fight against superbugs’

  • Maggot treatments in England have increased by almost 50% between 2009 and 2019
  • Doctors hope the therapy can help counter the global threat of superbugs
  • Experts fear nurses’ ‘prudishness’ could deter them from handing out treatment

They can be associated with decaying, dead bodies.

Still, NHS doctors are increasingly resorting to using maggots to treat wounds and prevent infections.

The latest resort treatment — famously relied on during WWI — sees fly larvae placed on bodies in tea-bag bags, where they eat dead tissue and secrete supposedly antimicrobial molecules.

Doctors hope the therapy can help counter the global threat of superbugs, a crisis likened to terrorism and climate change.

Sticking maggots on infected wounds eliminates the need for antibiotics, which can encourage bacteria to mutate and become resistant to the life-saving drugs.

NHS Digital data shows that the number of maggot treatments being handed out in England has increased by almost 50 per cent over the past decade.

In 2018 to 2019 maggots were used more than 1,300 times on the NHS, compared to less than 900 in 2008 to 2009.

Still, experts fear that nurses’ ‘prudishness’ will deter them from distributing the treatment more widely.

NHS Digital data shows maggot treatments in England have increased by almost 50 per cent from 886 in 2008-2009 to 1,305 in 2018-2019

WHAT IS ANTIBIOTIC RESISTANCE?

Antibiotics have been unnecessarily dispensed by primary care physicians and hospital staff for decades, fueling once-harmless bacteria to become superbugs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has previously warned that if nothing is done the world will be heading for a ‘post-antibiotic’ era.

It claimed that common infections, such as chlamydia, will become deadly without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become resistant to drugs if people take the wrong dose of antibiotics or if they are administered unnecessarily.

Former medical chief Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as serious as terrorism.

Figures estimate that by 2050, superbugs will kill 10 million people each year, with patients succumbing to once-harmless bugs.

Around 700,000 people worldwide already die each year as a result of resistant infections, including tuberculosis (TB), HIV and malaria.

Concerns have been repeatedly raised that drugs will stop working in years to come if antibiotics stop working.

In addition to existing drugs becoming less effective, only one or two new antibiotics have been developed in the past 30 years.

In September, the WHO warned that antibiotics were “running out” as a report indicated a “serious lack” of new drugs in the development pipeline.

Without antibiotics, cesarean sections, cancer treatments and hip replacements become incredibly “risky,” it was said at the time.

Using maggots to clean wounds first became popular in World War I, when field surgeons found that soldiers infected with the larvae healed faster.

The advent of medical antibiotics in the 1940s largely relegated treatment to history.

Research shows that it is effective in treating difficult-to-heal wounds and that it is cost-effective, and the NHS accepted it as a treatment in 2004.

Based in Bridgend, South Wales, BioMonde sells 9,000 organic tea bags filled with green bottle fly larvae to the health service every year.

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The 1mm pouches are placed on open tissue, covered with a bandage and stored for up to four days as a ‘last resort’ for patients who do not heal with antibiotics.

But a study published in the Wound Care Diary found that the “yuck factor” meant health professionals were more likely to be disgusted by maggots than their patients.

Professor Yamni Nigam, an entomologist at Swansea University, said the “prudishness” must be overcome to make the therapy more popular.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Nurses specializing in wound care have often seen maggot therapy and are on board with the idea of ​​using it.

‘While non-specialist wound nurses and general staff nurses don’t want to use maggots.

‘Then we have the problem where staff nurses are hesitant to get involved.

“Of course, I think everyone has a natural aversion to creepy critters and most people have an inherent aversion to maggots.”

She added: ‘Maggots are so efficient and cost effective.

“They can turn a stagnant wound that has been refusing to heal for months — in four days they can transform the wound.

“One of the most important things maggots can do is disinfect a wound. If you have a chronically infected wound, put maggots? [will clear the dead tissue].

“Then they drink all that slurry through the bag and you take the bag out.”

Rising superbugs have fueled fears that common conditions and medical surgeries could become more dangerous if patients succumb to previously treatable bacterial infections.

It claimed that common infections, such as chlamydia, will become deadly without immediate solutions to the growing crisis.

Bacteria can become resistant to drugs if people take the wrong dose of antibiotics or if they are administered unnecessarily.

Britain’s former medical officer Dame Sally Davies claimed in 2016 that the threat of antibiotic resistance is as serious as terrorism.

Experts estimate that by 2050, superbugs will kill 10 million people each year, with patients succumbing to once-harmless bugs.

HOW DO MAGOTES TREAT INFUECTED TISSUE?

Maggots can be applied to infected tissue to feast on the bacteria and dead cells in chronic wounds. In addition to cleaning up the injury, the larvae also increase the chances of healing.

While it may make you feel a little nauseous, this ancient therapy has been used since Biblical times but fell out of favor when antibiotics were discovered.

Maggots were also used during the American Civil War to prevent gangrene.

And in the French trenches of WW1, doctors noted that maggot wounds were less likely to become infected and heal more quickly, putting soldiers at less risk of dying from their wounds.

Due to the antibiotic resistance crisis, interest in the creepy critters has resurfaced.

Maggots don’t eat damaged tissue directly, but instead release saliva that contains enzymes that break down bacteria and dead cells.

These enzymes also increase the production of chemicals in the immune system that help kill bacteria.

The FDA approved medical-grade maggots in 2004 as a “medical device” for chronic or non-healing wounds. The NHS also offers maggot therapy for gangrene.

These larvae are specially grown in a lab with eggs that have been treated to remove bacteria. Without this treatment, the maggots can cause infections in the wound.

The maggots are then placed on the injured site and covered with gauze.

While the larvae are just as effective when they are loose, covering them with a bandage reduces the patient’s fear of the worm-like creatures crawling all over them.

The maggots usually remain for between two and four days, or until they stop feeding or become adult flies.

Merry

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