Maggot Therapy is explored in modern medicine since at least WW1
The first modern article about maggot therapy by William S. Baer was published in 1931. In his introduction, he starts with an anecdote about how he came in contact with maggot therapy during the first world war (1914 to 1918):
At a certain battle during 1917, two soldiers with Compound fractures of the femur and large flesh wounds of the abdomen and scrotum were brought into the hospital. These men had been wounded during an engagement and in such a part of the country, hidden by brush, that when the wounded of that battle were picked up they were overlooked. For seven days they lay on the battlefield without water, without food, and exposed to the weather and all the insects which were about that region. On their arrival at the hospital I found that they had no fever and that there was no evidence of septicaemia or blood poisoning. Indeed, their condition was remarkably good, and if it had not been for their starvation and thirst, we would have said they were in excellent condition. When I noticed the extent of the wounds, of the thigh particularly, I could not but marvel at the good constitutional condition of the patients. At that time the mortality of Compound fractures of the femur was about seventy-five to eighty per cent.—even when the wounded had the best of medical and surgical care that the Army and Navy could provide. [...]
Here, however, were two men in the earlier part of our engagement in the War, when the mortality of Compound fractures of the femur was high, who, to all intents and purposes, were constitutionally well. This unusual fact quickly attracted my attention. I could not understand how a man who had lain on the ground for seven days with a Compound fracture of the femur, without food and water, should be free of fever and of evidences of sepsis. On removing the clothing from the wounded part, much was my surprise to see the wound filled with thousands and thousands of maggots, apparently those of the blow fly. These maggots simply swarmed and filled the entire wounded area. The sight was very disgusting and measures were taken hurriedly to wash out these abominable looking creatures. Then the wounds were irrigated with normal salt Solution and the most remarkable picture was presented in the character of the wound which was exposed. Instead of having a wound filled with pus, as one would have expected, due to the degeneration of devitalized tissue and to the presence of the numerous types of bacteria, these wounds were filled with the most beautiful pink granulation tissue that one could imagine. There was practically no bare bone to be seen and the internal structure of the wounded bone, as well as the surrounding parts, was entirely covered with the pink, rosy granulation tissue which filled the wound. Bacterial cultures were made and, while one found a few staphylococci and Streptococci still remaining, they were very few in number and not sufficient at that time to cause a pus formation. These patients went on to healing, notwithstanding the fact that we removed their friends which had been doing such noble work.
This is the first description in modern medicine history, after following research and evaluation of developing an aseptic method. But it is by far the first description of maggot therapy itself. In fact, the very article points out that the idea is far from novel:
Note: It is evident that even in ancient times many surgeons had observed the effect of maggots on wounds, but it has remained for Dr. Baer to develop this idea in accordance with scientific medicine and surgery. The following article by Dr. Goldstein gives an interesting historical review of the subject of these observations referred to by Dr. Baer.—Editor.
Older Maggot Therapy
In 2011, Ron Sherman wrote this article, giving an abridged version of the history of maggot therapy:
For centuries, military surgeons observed the benefits of maggots in the wounds of fallen soldiers. Maggot-infested wounds were cleaner, and healed faster than non-infested wounds. Soldiers whose wounds where infested with maggots were more likely to survive their wounds than soldiers not so infested.
But that is by far not the most conclusive one. For that, we can look at an article by Iain S Whitaker, Christopher Twine et al. from 2007:
Larval association with infected wounds has been reported since ancient times, with the Old Testament being the oldest written piece to cite the infestation of an infected wound of a man by fly larvae (myiasis).6
Evidence exists that larvae have been used for the last thousand years by various ancient cultures, such as the aboriginal Ngemba tribe of New South Wales,7 the Hill people of Northern Myanma (Burma)8 and the Mayan healers of Central America.9 Anthropological research suggests that the Maya soaked dressings in the blood of cattle and exposed them to the sun before applying them to certain lesions, expecting the dressings to squirm with maggots.7
- Zumpt F.Myiasis in man and animals in the Old World. London: Butterworths, 1965
- Dunbar G. Notes on the Ngemba tribe of the Central Darling River of Western New South Wales. Mankind 19443140–148. [Google Scholar]
- Greenberg B. Flies through history. In: Greenberg B, ed. Flies and disease. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1973
- Sherman R A, Pechter E A. Maggot therapy: a review of the therapeutic applications of fly larvae in human medicine, especially for treating osteomyelitis. Med Vet Entomol 19882225–230. [PubMed] [Google Scholar]