Monday, January 02, 2006

Medicinal Maggots (and Leeches) Oh My!

I would have thought it was a joke, but apparently leeches are making a comeback, and maggots are the new hot stuff. My favorite edition of the NYTimes magazine, their year-end "Year in Ideas" issue that purports the cover the 100 most significant new ideas/inventions of the year has, this year, an article about medical uses of maggots.

What's the medical use of maggots? Well, in brief, for wounds that don't heal, develop gangrene, do not respond to antibiotics, - put 8 to 10 maggots per square centimeter, cover with gauze for 48 to 72 hours, then remove. Apparently they eat up all the rotting flesh along with associated bacteria. Very cheap (compared to standard medical treatments), they cost about $100 per treatment. Doesn't hurt - I don't know why not. And they cure some things that nothing else will cure, which is apparently what enables potential patients to overcome the "yuck" factor and agree to such treatments.

Now what about leeches? For this I had to search the internet, and to use my powers of imagination to interpret the medical techno-speak. Here's my understanding. Occasionally, in plastic or reconstructive surgery, a certain area may become blood-logged, and the surgeon may seek to evacuate blood from that area. The ideal is to cause it to bleed slowly over a period of time. Apparently none of the standard anti-coagulants have quite that effect. But the secretions of the leech do. Attach a leech, and even after you've removed it, the area will continue to ooze blood for 10 hours of so. Quoting a supplier of leeches: "The goal then is to produce a minimally adequate venous outflow from the tissue by adjusting the number of bite wounds to suit the clinical situation."

BTW, since leeches feed on blood, they are referred to not as herbivorous, not as carnivorous, but as sanguivorous.

Also important to note: "Leeches are treated in the same way as blood products and are reused only on the same patient." I'm glad to hear it. I assume that means that after a leech is used, it is discarded in that trash can labeled "Biohazard" that we so commonly find in doctor's offices.

If you're so inclined, you may want to check out the site of Biopharm Leeches, Suppliers of Medicinal Leeches Since 1812. Their tagline - "The biting edge of science".

Another little factoid. Leeches are hermaphrodites. Remember what that means? I had forgotten, but an explanation quickly followed. They are both male and female. So when they copulate, each one fertilizes the other. Meaning, I think, that Leslie impregnates Terry at the same time that Terry is impregnating Leslie. Babies, cocoons and new full-size leeches soon follow...


At 10:21 AM, Anonymous David M said...

I hereby resolve to use the word "sanguivorous" as often as possible.

At 12:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

subscribe to the NYorker, or if you do then
start reading it...

At 4:54 PM, Blogger cosmopolitan life said...

Why? Is the New Yorker leading the charge in medicinal maggot reportage?


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