Flies and Injuries – A Surprising Benefit

Over the course of history, there have been a number of interesting connections between injuries and medicine. One of the most surprising has been a potentially beneficial relationship between maggots, or baby flies, and the healing of infected   wounds .

The benefits of using fly larvae for healing infected  wounds  have been recognized for hundreds of years. On the European continent, certain types of beneficial fly larvae found their way into  wounds  on their own. This accident happened mainly under battlefield conditions. It was recorded after this happened that when the fly larvae were present, the  wound  tended to heal more quickly and with fewer complications. These  wounds  were compared to  wounds  that had not been infested by fly larvae.

During the American Civil War, the same benefits were recorded by Confederate doctors. One, a Dr. Joseph Jones, a ranking Confederate medical officer, noted that he had frequently seen open or neglected  wounds  filled with maggots and as far as he could tell, the larvae “only destroy dead tissues, and do not injure specifically the well parts.”

While Dr. Jones certainly noticed the benefits, the first therapeutic use of fly larvae may be credited to a different Confederate medical officer, J.F. Zacharias. This officer reported that fly larvae were capable of cleaning “in a single day a  wound  much better than any agents we had at out command.” He attributes many saved lives to the use of fly larvae.

During World War One, an orthopedic consultant to American forces in France treated two soldiers who had been overlooked on the battlefield for a week after the fighting stopped. He observed that although the compound fractures and abdominal  wounds  were filled with fly larvae, the  wounds  had begun healing with no evidence of blood poisoning or infection.

The same doctor used the same concept when he was later a Clinical Professor of Orthopedic Surgery at Johns Hopkins Medical School. While treating a particularly infected  wound , he obtained a supply of fly larvae and allowed them to devour the dead and infected tissues. The  wounds  proceeded to heal within six weeks.

Following the clinical experiments and experiences, the use of larvae in  wound  management became very common. It reached its high point in the 1930s. During this time, larvae of the greenbottle fly were produced commercially in large numbers for exactly this purpose. Early literature on the topic reference many successful cases using fly larvae in a variety of fields. Chronic or infected  wounds  including osteomyelities, abscesses, burns, and other injuries have all been helped through the use of fly larvae.

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