Sunday, February 16, 2014

Maggots: Friend or Foe?

by Janet King, RN, BSN, CCRN.

Surgeon C.S. Wood of the 66th NY Volunteers wrote of the problems his amputation patients had with flies and the maggots they produced in the hospital wards - "In 12 hours the wound is literally covered with maggots and in 24 hours the stump looks as though a swarm of bees had settled into it." Another surgeon recorded - "The maggot does damage in the wound, not by attacking living tissue, but by the annoyance created by the continued sensation of crawling."

The Union doctors and care givers tried their best to eradicate the flies through the use of netting and injections of chloroform onto the stumps of amputees. The Confederate doctors, while tending gangrene cases in a prison stockade at Chattanooga and denied such "luxuries" made a startling discovery. They found that the Confederate wounds healed quickly, while those of the "well cared for" Union troops (without maggots) became gangrenous or otherwise infected, and the Union soldiers died in great numbers. After this discovery the Confederate surgeons welcomed their new found "friends" - though the Yankee doctors never seemed to learn such a valuable lesson.

The reason the maggots worked was the fact that they eat dead or diseased tissue. They may have been awful to see and feel crawling about in a wound, but they got rid of the infection locally and left the remainder of the wound clean and healthy. Today maggots have been bred for special uses and perhaps they may once again be seen as our "friends."



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