Doc’s little helper
Medicinal leeches get the headlines, but they’re not the only squirmy bags of flesh-eating goo used by physicians to clean out necrotic or infected tissue. The colored scanning electron micrograph above features the head of a bluebottle fly larva (Protophormia). The larvae are sterilized and placed in wounds, where they feed on dead flesh but leave healthy tissues alone. Those teeth-like fangs help it dig out a meal. Their saliva contains antibacterial compounds that help keep the wound clean.
Maggot therapy (also known as biodebridement) is typically used on deep wounds away from organs or body cavities or on superficial ulcers, such as those that can afflict the feet of diabetics. The practice has a long history – there are reports of its use going back to the ancient Maya – but the modern practice dates back only a decade or two. The FDA officially approved maggots as a prescription-only medical device in 2004.