BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated:  Thursday, 27 February, 2003, 14:59 GMT
Maggots heal hospital wounds
A maggot
Many people have a "yuck factor" when it comes to maggots
A hospital in Northern Ireland has been using an unorthodox treatment involving maggots to treat wounds where modern medicine has failed to cope.

Known as larval therapy, the maggots eat dead tissue, but leave healthy tissue alone.

Although staff at Daisy Hill hospital in Newry were initially sceptical, clinical specialist in tissue viability Jenny Mullan said the treatment produced "unbelievable" results.

Hospital maggots are specially bred for wound treatment. They are sterile and are usually of the green blowfly variety as this species only ingests dead tissue.

The therapy was first used at the hospital on a diabetic patient, who had recently had a limb amputated and developed a pressure sore on his other heel.

The patient reported that the pain had been reduced, said Ms Mullan.

"Yuck factor"

Many people have a "yuck factor" when it comes to the idea of maggots, but Ms Mullan said there have been no problems with the treatment.

A common concern is the chance of the maggots escaping into other areas of the body, but Ms Mullan insisted that preparation is important and the treatment is safe.

"We make a clinical check to ensure there is no means of escape, either through fistulas, sinuses or any ways the larvae could progress up the body.

Maggots at work in the lab
Maggots at work in the lab
"We protect the skin around the ulcer, and that stops the larvae disappearing out of the necrotic tissue, because once they have fed, they may migrate away from the necrotic fluffy tissue.

"We also seal them off with waterproof tape and they are inside a specially designed net.

"It really is quite safe, as there is no means of escape," she said.


Larval therapy is often used as a last stage prior to surgery. It is also used on people who have suffered from chronic conditions for a long time.

As certain bugs have become resistant to antibiotics, maggots are fast becoming medicine's secret weapon.

They are currently one of the most effective means of treating wounds that are infected by the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), which can cause life-threatening illness in hospital patients.

Maggots are thought to work by secreting proteolytic enzymes to break down dead tissue into a soup-like substance which they then injest.

Maggots were widely used for medicinal purposes at the beginning of the 20th century.

But with the advent of antibiotics in the 1940s, their use died out.

Now, the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections is causing a renewed surge in interest.


The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific