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Medicine turns to the lowly maggot


'They're definitely our friends at this house'

October 20, 1997
Web posted at: 8:39 p.m. EDT (0039 GMT)

From Correspondent Jim Hill

LOS ANGELES (CNN) -- Despite the availability of modern antibiotics and the latest in surgical procedures, people with poor circulation suffer from injuries that heal slowly or not at all.

But a California researcher has found a treatment that may not be for the squeamish, but it works: He's using maggots to clean out wounds and accelerate healing.

Dr. Donald Sherman of the University of California in Irvine uses maggots, or fly larvae, which were first discovered to be beneficial centuries ago.

CNN's Jim Hill explores the healing properties of maggots
icon 2 min., 20 sec. VXtreme streaming video

Sherman says military doctors found that "wounded soldiers on the battlefield whose wounds became infested with maggots did much better" than those not visited by maggots.

Sherman has used hundreds of sterile larvae from green blowflies to help people like Vitus Smieja, who nearly lost his legs in 1995 when several infections wouldn't heal.

"They were just getting worse and worse," Smieja says. "And when they said they may amputate, it just about knocked me out."

'They're definitely our friends at this house'

Sherman says the maggots dissolve dead and infected material, yet leave healthy tissue alone. They also secrete enzymes that kill bacteria.

"We've been able to show that wounds not healing or even enlarging have actually reversed that pattern and start healing at a rate several-fold faster," Sherman says.

"The first time that I saw his legs after they took the maggots off it just looked better," says Smieja's wife, Ella. "It just looked good!"

Smieja's infection after several weeks of treatment

"It was heartwarming to see that happen," says Smieja, "because I didn't want to lose these legs."

Not every patient is a candidate for this kind of therapy. But for diabetics and others with poor circulation whose wounds won't heal, a few visits from the maggots may be the difference between healing and amputation.

"They're definitely our friends at this house," says Ella Smieja.

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