Special Report

7 Bizarre Medical Treatments Back in Use

5. Maggots

Maggots have been used for thousands of years to treat wounds. Archaeological findings, historical reports, and ancient writings show their use in Mayan culture, among Australian Aboriginal tribes, during the reign of the Roman Empire, and during the Renaissance. Maggots were especially useful during wartime. Military doctors and battlefield medics noticed soldiers whose wounds were colonized by maggots were less likely to die from their injuries. During the Napoleonic Wars, while campaigning through the Middle East, French surgeons observed that the larvae of certain fly species consumed only dead tissue, speeding up the healing process.

In the 1930s, studies found that maggots contain antimicrobial properties. Despite the growing body of evidence, however, the discovery of penicillin and other antibiotics led to far lower maggot usage for infectious wounds.

With widespread antibiotic use, some bacteria have developed into superbugs with resistance to most, if not all, antibiotics. At the same time, the rise in diabetes has led to more wounds with poor blood supply and significantly impaired healing. In a 1989 study, researchers found maggot therapy to be a suitable alternative to other modern wound-control techniques. And in 2004, the FDA approved the prescription of maggots for the treatment of non-healing wounds, including diabetic ulcers, venous stasis ulcers, and other non-healing traumatic or surgical wounds.

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6. Fecal Transplant

Taking stool from one healthy person and implanting it in the digestive system of an unhealthy
person certainly sounds like one of the least pleasant treatments. Despite the “ick” factor, recent studies have shown fecal transplant to be exceedingly successful in controlling some bacterial infections in the gut that do not respond to available antibiotics. Modern delivery techniques have also made it a much less unpleasant experience.

A sample is collected from the donor, who is pre-screened for a wide array of bacterial and parasitic infections. The sample is diluted and then applied to the patient’s digestive tract either through a colonoscopy or a tube placed through the nose into the digestive tract. The treatment has been most successful as a treatment for patients with C. difficile, a common gut infection that usually arises after prolonged use of strong antibiotics. In fact, it has been shown to be even more effective than the current standard therapy, the antibiotic vancomycin.

Fecal transplants have been used to treat other ailments as early as the fourth century. Chinese medical reports from the period discuss its application in the treatment of food poisoning and severe diarrhea. At that time, and for at least the next 1,200 years, a solution of stool and water was simply drunk by the patient.

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