"eeeeeew!!", that's the reaction everyone has on reading the phrase, "maggot infestation of live humans!!" a concept which has given rise to many urban legends. The reality is that alive humans DO get infected with maggots.
Maggot is the common term used to refer to fly larvae. Undoubtedly, there are as many types of maggots as there are flies. Depending on the parent fly, maggots may have characteristic features such as a certain coloration and measurement. Most of them however are worm-like, headless, limbless creatures with their length ranging from 1-30 millimeter. They are equipped with hook like structures which help them remain lodged at host site until they are ready to pupate.
Uses of Maggots
Maggots are used extensively as baits for fishing and as food for meat eating pet animals. They are also used for therapeutic purposes to clean persistent wounds and encourage faster healing. This process referred to as maggot debridement therapy is performed under medical supervision using laboratory grown dead tissue eating maggots.
Forensic scientists use maggots developing in dead decaying bodies to gauge the time of death.
Maggots are even used in making a special kind of Italian cheese named formaggio marcio or casu marzu. This extra soft cheese, obtained by the action of digestive juices of Piophila casei maggots, is legally banned for obvious health reasons.
Maggot Infestation of Living Beings
At times, maggots start developing in living beings, a condition medically termed myiasis. It may occur in animals as well as humans. The condition may affect genitalia, anus, intestines, eyes, mouth, ears, nose and sinuses of suitable hosts.
Maggot infestation symptoms depend on the affected site. Larvae lodging themselves in the intestines may cause nausea, severe diarrhea, stomach ache and other gastrointestinal complications. When affecting nose, the maggots may cause edema, headaches and fever. Skin infestation may cause an outburst of rashes.
The primary cause of maggot infestation is unhygienic living conditions. Inadequate care of open wounds and lesions as in case of cancer patients or diabetics may also be a causative factor. With general hygiene practices in place, maggot infestation is quite unheard of and comes as a complete surprise. But you know, here in India we have a colorful idiom which roughly translates to cursing someone with an invasion of worms. After seeing maggots infesting a live human, this is the only saying that comes to mind and then one realizes, "our forefathers certainly knew enough about the grossness of this situation to come up with a curse like that!"
In spite of following a hygienic routine, at times it is just impossible to control certain things. Open wounds, facial cancers and lesions for instance attract flies even if they are covered properly. It's in such cases simply a matter of time…
Treatment for Maggot Infestation
The only positive angle to maggot infestation is that the larvae eventually fall out of the body because they typically pupate in dry places. But, the very thought (and sight too) of a living human being housing hundreds of worm-like wriggling creatures in the body and/or jumping out of it is so horrifying that patients and their caregivers find it difficult to stand it.
Patients can be taken to a hospital where the medical staff may apply local anesthesia, apply pressure on the affected area to force the maggot peek out of the wound when it is quickly pulled out with a forceps. The wound is then cleaned and covered with bandages. If done clumsily, this procedure runs the risk of larval body breaking while being extracted out. The ensuing release of larval body fluids may cause an allergic reaction in the host.
A safe way of getting rid of maggots is by blocking their oxygen supply. Doctors recommend using petroleum jelly or 100% pure turpentine oil. Both these components force the maggots to come out of deeper layers of the skin. Turpentine oil however has other side effects. Always consult your doctor about optimum dosage and the way in which turpentine oil needs to be used.
Once the maggots are out, primary caregivers need to be more proactive. Change the dressing more frequently. Apply generous amounts of prescribed medication. Check if using petroleum jelly or turpentine oil along with medication is okay. Take care that at least the patient's room has no flies. With due precautions, maggot infestation may not recur.