U.K. government to roll out “Project Maggot”: Unusual treatment will clean the wounds of people in war zones like Syria and Yemen
04/11/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

The U.K. is planning to send an odd but effective form of humanitarian aid to war-torn countries: Batches of sterile medical maggots that can naturally clean the wounds of patients by eliminating rotten flesh and sterilizing the wounded area.

The maggots will be dispatched to South Sudan, Syria, Yemen, and other countries that are currently undergoing civil war. Hundreds of people in those conflict areas have been grievously wounded during the fighting, and local medical supplies are sorely limited in number.

Maggots are the larval form of flies. The ones used for medicinal purposes are usually the larvae of green bottle flies (Calliphoridae), which lay their eggs within cadavers. The maggots of this genus of blowflies prefer to eat dead tissue and will not touch live flesh, making them perfect for disinfecting the wounds of living people.

The green bottle fly maggots are placed within easy reach of the wound of a patient. They will consume dead tissue, thereby preventing the flesh from festering and causing infections. Furthermore, the saliva of the maggots have antiseptic properties that kill disease-causing bacteria. (Related: Maggots versus antibiotics in the fight against infection.)

Maggot debridement therapy will make a comeback in war-torn areas

This approach is called "maggot debridement therapy." Debridement is the medical term for the removal of dead, damaged, or infected tissue from the wound. Getting rid of the unhealthy tissue allows the body to focus its resources on healing the remaining tissue instead of having to also fight infection.


Maggot therapy was prescribed by traditional medicine for cleaning infected wounds. The Aboriginal people, who lived in Australia long before the arrival of white settlers, used the insect larvae to treat wounds for infection. So did soldiers fighting the trenches during World War I.

The practice fell into disuse with the development of modern antibiotics and pharmaceutical drugs. However, interest in maggot debridement therapy has been renewed in recent times.

The U.K. government is pouring $250,000 into what it called "Project Maggot." They believe the biotherapy could help save the limbs of wounded people. By preventing secondary infections caused by injuries and operations, the maggots could head off the need to amputate limbs that have been overrun by gangrene.

"People living through conflict and humanitarian crisis are still dying from wounds that could so easily be healed with the right access to care," said U.K. Parliament member Penny Mordaunt, who also served as the Secretary of State for International Development.

Maggot therapy can stop infections and prevent the need for amputation

Field hospitals participating in Project Maggot will raise batches of green bottle fly maggots. The newly lain eggs will be sterilized before undergoing artificial incubation for up to two days.

Maggots are ready for use the moment they emerge from their eggs. There are two ways to apply them: Directly placing the bugs on the wound or putting them inside a plastic bag that will be wrapped around an injury.

Sterile maggots are invaluable in areas whose medical facilities are either lacking or have been damaged or destroyed. A Live Science article described how the larvae can sterilize wounds faster and better than human surgeons.

Maggots can only be used for one treatment. Afterward, they will be placed in sealed containers and disposed off. This is to reduce the chances of the larvae spreading disease. Thankfully, maggots sterilize themselves during their metamorphosis into adult flies.

A successful breeding program will provide a field hospital with enough maggots to treat 250 wounds each day. Researchers at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia are working on a do-it-yourself starter kit that can be used by medical practitioners in remote communities.

Sources include:

LiveScience.com 1

LiveScience.com 2


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