The use of live worms to clean wounds is undergoing a resurgence in the NHS amid rising concern about the threat of antibiotic resistance.
The treatment – that involves placing sterilized fly larvae on wounds to eat dead tissue-was common in the first half of the 20th century, but the use of live worms faded with the emergence of the “antibiotic era” in the 1940s.
But now, with antibiotic resistance making some wounds harder to treat, silly ones are being used again in the NHS and abroad. Already, superbugs kill nearly 700,000 people a year – a figure predicted to hit 10 million by 2050 if AMR continues at its current rate.
BioMonde, a wound care company based in Bridgend, South Wales, produces dishes from Greenbottle Blowflies and sells 25,000 “biobags” containing insects across Europe annually-including 9,000 in the NHS.
The bags, each containing 50 and 400 live worms, were placed on wounds that would not heal with antibiotics. The caterpillars eat the rotten flesh, contain and kill the infection.
“Worms are viewed as an agent of decay, when in fact they are brilliant small creatures … and work well on wounds that are resistant to infection,” said Yamni Nigam, a science professor in health care at Swansea University. The Telegraph.
“We are in the midst of this global catastrophe of resistance to antimicrobial and larval therapy was once considered a backup plan or last resort to address resistance – but it is actually part of the solution.”
Larval therapy will ‘stand the test of time’
The use of live worms was first introduced to physicians by an American scientist, William Baer, who used them to treat the wounds of soldiers during the First World War. But their use is traced back to indigenous communities and indigenous communities centuries ago.
“It’s a tried and trusted treatment that has stood the test of time for hundreds, if not thousands, of years,” said Rebecca Llewellyn, a clinical support assistant at BioMonde. “[It] is considered by some as an old-fashioned treatment, but it is certainly useful in a modern setting. “