They crawl blindly across rotten flesh, gorging until they’re bloated and double their size. They’re near-blind and kind of creepy, using tiny hooks to latch onto their food source.
Oh, and mum and dad are blowflies.
Is it any wonder maggots get a bad rap?
But the work of a pioneering team at Westmead Hospital’s Entomology Department means these tiny white larvae are saving Australian lives and limbs.
The maggots are the offspring of the blowfly Lucilia sericata. They have specific qualities that create medical miracles: they eat only dead skin, their eggs can withstand sterilisation and they can be grown in the lab, according to Dr Stephen Doggett.
As well as removing dead skin – often around wounds of shocking severity – they disinfect the affected area and promote healing at a rate 20 per cent better than more accepted treatments.
“It is taking time to find acceptance in the medical community, but once a patient recieves the treatment, they say they would have it again,’ Dr Doggett told a infectious diseases symposium at Westmead’s 2017 Hospital Week.
The symposium heard about a 38-year-old man who had such a serious pressure injury on his left heel he faced losing his leg. The skin on his heel was black and dead, and he had lost all feeling in the area.
Traditional treatment proved ineffective; maggot therapy was his only alternative to amputation.
Nurse Gill Gale documented his recovery in a series of confronting and graphic images.
“We get a lot of negative comments, but when you see the results you’ll be amazed,” she said.
More than 1000 patients have now received maggot therapy. The success rate is greater than 85 per cent.
More than 70 amputations are performed in Australia each week, and 280 patients are diagnosed with diabetes each day, Dr Doggett said.
“We have a situation where antibiotic resistance is growing,” he said.
“Maggot therapy is cheap, and it works.”
The strain used by Dr Doggett and the Westmead team are far from exotic: the flies are straight out of Parramatta. The Westmead are the sole suppliers of maggots for medical purposes in Australia.