Leeches, maggots increasingly used to treat patients

Leeches, maggots, and other folk remedies are making a comeback as medical treatment, according to The National Review of Medicine, a newspaper for Canadian physicians.

Dr. Donald Lalonde, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon in Saint John, NB, uses leeches in his own practice. He tells the paper: “People are usually, of course, grossed out. [But] they go from being grossed out to not being able to wait for the next leech.”

Although leeches were used for centuries, they were largely abandoned by medical practitioners in favour of other (less gross) methods about 100 years ago. In the 1980s, though, a new discovery prompted researchers to look at them again: “Turns out nothing salvages severed fingers and toes quite like a leech,” the NRM reports. In 1996, a meta-analysis concluded that hirodutherapy (treatment with leeches) saved up to 80 per cent of grafted tissue that would otherwise have died. Not only do leeches remove excess blood from reattached appendages; they also release beneficial chemicals into the body that help severed digits to heal. “Anyone who knows anything about replantation surgery has been using leeches since about 1990,” Lalonde says.

Among Canadian doctors, maggots are also apparently making a comeback. In 1989, California researchers began experimenting with maggots to clean major wounds. Dr. John Maynard, a Vancouver family doctor, used maggots on a patient’s wound that refused to heal. The patient wasn’t a huge fan of the treatment, Maynard tells NRM: “He said to me, ‘Last night I thought I could hear them chewing.'” But they got the job done.

Great news. But still…. yuck.


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