Maggots: A Revolting Medical Rebirth

我们通过发表论文来表彰学生 STEM 写作比赛的前八名获奖者。这是Rahul Koppisetti的。


这篇文章由16岁的Rahul Koppisetti撰写,来自新泽西州利文斯顿的利文斯顿高中。,是学习网络第三年度STEM写作比赛的前八名获奖者之一,我们收到了3,564份参赛作品。

A patient wakes from anesthesia after a successful foot surgery. As she regains consciousness, she feels an itching, wriggling sensation in her foot. Lifting the blanket to investigate, she is greeted by an abhorrent sight: hundreds of glutinous, yellow-white maggots.

Seemingly a scene straight out of a Mary Shelley novel, this uncomfortable example represents the cutting edge of modern medical treatments. In fact, maggots are one of only two animals (leeches being the other) approved by the Food and Drug Administration for medical treatment.

Maggots thrive in necrotic wounds — wounds that struggle to heal due to insufficient blood flow. These wounds are breeding grounds for bacteria, which can lead to infection and, in extreme cases, amputation. Luckily, maggots love to feed on bacteria. The combination of tissue, bacteria and lack of blood flow creates a fleshy paradise for these insects. The most amazing part: Maggots only feed on necrotic skin, leaving healthy tissue untouched.

The French surgeon Ambroise Paré first described the efficacy of maggots for treating wounds in 1557. Despite this initial discovery, it was not until the American Civil War that maggots were intentionally used as treatment. John Forney Zacharias, the Confederate surgeon who initiated this approach, dubbed maggots “better than any agents we had at our command” after using them to save many lives.

After all this, you might wonder: Why have I never heard of medical maggots? What happened to their use following the Civil War? The answers to these questions lie within human psychology.

Our instinctive reaction to parasitic organisms is panic and aggression. Every cell in our nervous system is repulsed by the idea of parasites crawling in our skin. This rush of adrenaline often trumps all rationale.

The other factor is the way our brain groups things. For example, we associate Christmas with winter and presents. Our brain does this for almost all of the information it has. Unfortunately for them, maggots fall into a pretty nasty subgroup: flies, trash, infection and death.

You may think, certainly, we have more effective ways of cleaning out dead tissue. The alternative to maggots is doctors manually removing dead tissue with scalpels. “Using maggots, 80 percent of the wounds were free of dead tissue compared to 48 percent using traditional methods,” Dr. Ron Sherman, an entomologist studying the relationship between insects and disease, observed. “Less than 5 percent of patients who are destined for amputation are given a trial of maggot therapy … 50 to 70 percent of those amputations could probably be prevented.”

Humanity often overcomplicates its relationship with the natural world. We build our homes in dense towns and cities, far from the glades from which we arose. We seek dominion over nature through technologies like CRISPR, which provides a way for us to modify our DNA in the fashion we, not nature, see fit. However, complex technologies are not always the answer. The natural world has been the greatest problem-solver since its inception. Maggots present an opportunity for us to allow nature, honed over millennia, to do what it does best.

Works Cited

Mitra, Avir. “Maggots: A Vile Prescription.” WHYY, 16 Jan. 2019.

Mohd Zubir, Mohd Zurairie, et al. “Maggot Therapy in Wound Healing: A Systematic Review.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 21 Aug. 2020.

Renault, Marion. “A Truly Revolting Treatment Is Having a Renaissance.” The Atlantic, 2 June 2021.

Risen, Clay. “Medical Maggots.” The New York Times, 11 Dec. 2005.

Whitaker, Iain S., et al. “Larval Therapy From Antiquity to the Present Day: Mechanisms of Action, Clinical Applications and Future Potential.” Postgraduate Medical Journal, June 2007.