During the American Civil War, the beneficial healing effect of maggots in wounds was noticed by a Confederate medical officer, Joseph Jones: "I have frequently seen neglected wounds... filled with maggots... as far as my experience extends, these worms only destroy dead tissues, and do not injure specifically the well parts." Another Confederate medical officer, J. F. Zacharias is credited with medically employing maggots to treat wounds: "Maggots... in a single day would clean a wound much better than any agents we had at our command... I am sure I saved many lives by their use." Maggots (larvae) from the blowfly infested the wounds of Civil War soldiers, who had been left on the battlefield for days -- because the battles had been so spread out. Initially, it was thought that the crawling maggots marked the wounded soldier as beyond help, but instead of death or amputation, fewer amputations and speedier healings took place. It was determined that the maggots of the blowfly (Lucilia sericata), not the pathogenic housefly (Musca domestica) or the damaging screw worm fly (Cochliomyia hominivorax), were the beneficial maggots discovered during the Civil War. The adult female blowfly was attracted to decaying flesh in which to deposit her eggs. Within only hours, the eggs hatched into maggots, which began to crawl and feed only upon the dead tissue, and excreting a substance beneficial to healing.
In 2005, Maggot Debridement Therapy (MDT) employs live maggots -- fly larvae from the blowfly, e..g., Phaenicia sericata (green blowfly) -- for cleaning non-healing wounds. These are called "medicinal maggots" because they: (1) debride (clean) wounds by dissolving dead and infected tissue, (2) disinfect wounds by killing bacteria, and (3) stimulate wound healing. Modern maggot therapy was performed by Dr. William Baer, an orthopedic surgeon, at Johns Hopkins University prior to 1931, but antibiotics and surgical techniques superseded their use after World War 2. Since that time, those antibiotic medical modalities have occasionally failed. Consequently, since 1989, physicians at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Long Beach, California) and the University of California, Irvine have sought to employ maggot therapy for patients before it became a last resort. The promotion of healing wounds that are not responding to conventional antibiotics, and the prevention of amputation, are goals for the Maggot Debridement Therapy (MDT), for that reason, the physicians and researchers of the Maggot Therapy Project have assembled a web site: to explain the "Clinical Practice of Maggot Therapy" to inquiring physicians and patients through downloadable documents, e.g., "Information Sheet and FAQ for Health Care Providers," to promote the use of University of California, Irvine laboratory produced, FDA approved Medical Maggots as a medical device -- 510(k) #33391 -- since January 2004, to provide links to further information on the topic of using living organisms in medicine, and to keep the topic of Maggot Therapy alive by posting links -- toward the bottom of their Home Page -- to "Press Articles" to be found on the Internet.
Image: The New World screw worm larvae; Image source: John Kucharski, USDA