Leeches, maggots & Co. for medical treatment

Maggots, worms and leeches are not exactly the pets that you keep. But in medicine, they are enjoying increasing popularity. As a natural cleansing command, they should cleanse wounds, clean up the intestines and activate the immune system.

Much disgust, few side effects

Treatment practices of our ancestors and effective therapy methods in modern medicine: fly maggots in wounds, leeches on the skin in venous disorders and rheumatic complaints, worm eggs for drinking in chronic intestinal diseases - which sounds unappetizing, brings in many cases a resounding success. It is especially important to overcome the disgust of patients and medical staff - otherwise such treatments are usually side effects.

fly maggots

Treatment with maggots has been known for some time, but has been suppressed by antibiotics since the 1940s. Only in recent years, the animals crawl more frequently on wounds. They kill even bacteria that are insensitive to antibiotics, and that is particularly gentle.

Only the dead, infected tissue is consumed, living cells are not touched. An advantage over the usual method with a scalpel, in which the surgeon has no choice but to remove at the wound edges and healthy tissue.

The more specific working method of small animals is also referred to as biosurgery. Fly maggots are used especially in chronic, poorly healing wounds, for example in diabetic feet or lower leg ulcers. But they can also help with acute wound infections.

Physicians report some spectacular successes. Thus, the crabs have already preserved patients with aggressive infections that were not stopped by antibiotics, from amputation of their limbs.

Mode of action of fly maggots

The maggots of the blowfly Lucilia sericata have a whole arsenal of effects: First, they attack the infectious agents directly. So they change the acidic environment in the wound, in which the pathogens feel particularly good, and they change from a digestive secretion, which acts like a local antibiotic.

On the other hand, the maggots also have a positive effect on the wound itself. They release certain substances that activate the wound's metabolism and stimulate healing. This effect is probably intensified by the fine body hairs of the animals, which mechanically stimulate the wound surface during movement.

In addition, the maggots remove substances that liquefy the dead tissue. So they can kill this and the bacteria. A Made grows through this festive feast within a few days over a centimeter in length - three to seven times their original size.

Treatment with fly maggots

The sterile maggots are applied directly to the wound, ie "free-running" or sealed in gauze bags. The latter are opaque and have the size of teabags. They save patients and staff the sight of the five to ten crawlers per cm 2 wound surface. The wound edges are completely sealed, after two to five days a dressing change takes place.

The treatment usually does not hurt, but tingles and tweaks only a little; however, it can create an unpleasant odor. If the patients are sure that there is no danger that the animals will flee their "workplace", they can usually become friends with the therapy.


Leeches have been used for therapeutic purposes for millennia, but clinical trials are still pending. Leech contains anti-inflammatory, anticoagulant and vasodilator substances. They are therefore used in diseases caused by or associated with circulatory disorders. These include, for example, varicose veins, thrombosis, phlebitis and hypertension. There are also reports of successful treatment of muscular and skeletal disorders, such as spinal disorders and arthrosis.

A leech sucks about three to six milliliters of blood; another 20 to 30 milliliters are lost through the rebleeding. Your bite is short painful, similar to a mosquito bite. The soaked animal falls off after 10 to 40 minutes by itself. Not infrequently, side effects are caused by the leech secretion: slight local reactions such as redness, swelling and itching and circulatory weakness.

worm eggs

In Germany, an estimated 300, 000 people suffer from one of the inflammatory bowel diseases Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. These autoimmune diseases are chronic, patients have constant or recurrent bowel problems that can not always be overcome with medication or surgery.

A cocktail of eggs from the pig whipworm now promises a gentle alternative. This water-like liquid is drunk about twice a month, from the worm eggs contained therein are supposed to hatch the parasites in the intestine, which die after a short time and are excreted. Behind this is the idea that this stimulates the immune system.

The theory sounds plausible, the side effects are low. However, at present there are not enough studies to substantiate the effect scientifically. Other researchers are investigating the extent to which worm infections can reduce allergic diseases such as asthma and hay fever. Whether there will be a corresponding vaccine made from worm eggs in a few years' time, however, requires further research.

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