Maggots ate my flesh!

By AUDREY SCHULMAN  |  July 16, 2007

And if the Centers for Disease Control and the American Medical Association, which have warned that the golden age of antibiotics is drawing to a close, are right, Sherman’s business may continue to grow. Nearly 80 years after penicillin was invented, antibiotic resistance is increasing dramatically, caused by over-prescription by doctors, as well as overuse in farm animals. Yep, farm animals.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, 70 percent of the antibiotics used in this country are administered to factory-farm pigs, cows, and chickens crammed together cheek by jowl up to their fetlocks in feces. Without constant preventative antibiotics, a single disease could sweep through overcrowded pens, killing them all in hours.

But while animal antibiotics may be good news for farmers, they’re bad news for carnivores. Not only are our bodies taking in a constant supply of immunity-increasing drugs; they’re being set up for catastrophe should some resistant strain of bacteria make its way from a farm to the tip of our tongues.

Keep this in mind the next time you take a bite of a burger, because if any bacteria survived the skillet, they’re likely to be muscular little Schwarzenegger germs so pumped up on factory-farm meds that nothing in your body’s going to be able to combat them. Plus, they mutate fast. A few hours after a single germ learns how to beat tetracycaline, it’s morphed into a whole army — one that will likely laugh at any antimicrobial you slather on or swallow.

Desperate researchers have long been aware of this predicament and are re-examining the therapies used before penicillin. As antibiotics become increasingly ineffective, Leaphart says, “People will begin to recognize [that] they have to go back to some of the simpler remedies that nature offers.”

Maggots in my snail mail?
MDT is not a course you should try at home, unsupervised. There’s a very specific type of maggot that will do the dirty work necessary, not any old germ-carrying maggot you pull straight from a skanky-smelling can of tuna in the dumpster behind your office. Plus, some maggot species will eat living flesh, which is the kind of medical mistake you probably don’t want to risk. And if an open wound leaves any body cavities or tunnels exposed — think: easy access to the lungs or bowels — a biosurgeon or two might wander away from the meal. Then trapped in some distant dead end, far from any dead flesh, it will starve and then rot inside of you.

Instead, leave the maggot wrangling to the professionals. Most patients have to use only one or two applications of maggots before their wounds will be as clean and healthy looking as any physician could wish, and ready to heal. But if you have the kind of chronic infected wound that doesn’t heal for months, if not years, you could buy your maggots from Monarch Labs like Dana does. The critters arrive via FedEx, bacterially sterilized in a vial, neatly encased in a teabag (which they soon eat their way out of). Dana puts the teabag on her wound and glues a bandage around it so the bugs don’t stray from their job site. Three days later, she removes the bandage and washes out the area.

Aside from the fact that her calf occasionally writhes with flesh-eating larvae, MDT has normalized Dana’s life. She can work, exercise, and keep her leg. There’s just one drawback: for three days a week she has to worry that, while she’s at a restaurant or out on a date, a maggot might fall out of her sock.

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