MAGGOTS EAT FAT MAN

A news story about a paralysed Austrian man, who was partially eaten by maggots, ran two years ago.

Deep visceral revulsion is evoked by the thought of a maggot eating flesh. This sensationalist internet myth fuels. The following story is a regular in-box retort:

This is the most frightening thing I have ever seen. This could happen to you, ladies, or your wife. Please be aware and warn others.

Susan McKinley, an anthropologist, noticed something strange about her left breast after returning from South America. It was not immediately clear what it was, but she dismissed it quickly believing it would disappear over time.

After experiencing intense pains, she returned to the hospital. Unable to determine the severity of her condition, the doctor prescribed antibiotics and special creams.

The pain didn’t subside over time and her left breast began to bleed. Susan tried to bandage the sores, but as her pain intensified, she decided to seek medical help. Dr. Lynch couldn’t diagnose the infection and advised Susan to consult a dermatologist who was unfortunately on vacation. After waiting for two weeks, she finally reached the dermatologist.

Surprised, Miss McKinley discovered that larvae were growing in her breasts and sores after she had removed the bandages. These wicked creatures could sometimes move in groups into different crevices. She didn’t realize that the holes were actually deeper than she thought. These larvae were eating fat, tissue, or even milk canals from her bosom.

The image was accompanied by a highly skilled and seriously twisted computer graphics artist who created a skin crawling impression. Although the image is fake, the story bears a vague resemblance with the truth, just like many other effective rumours.

The sobering truth about flesh-eaters

Fly larvae are also known as maggots. They are well-known for their ability to eat the flesh of dead animals and perform an important, though not glamorous, cleansing function in nature. Myiasis is a phenomenon where maggots infest live animals and humans and feed on their flesh.

Myiasis should not be a concern for those living in climates with good sanitation and access to medical care. If you are planning to travel to sub-tropical, tropical or tropical locations in Africa, the Americas or Asia, please read on.

Parasitic flesh-eaters

Certain fly species’ larvae feed parasitically on living tissue during their life cycle. This is the basis of our internet rumour.

These larvae could end up in our homes in many ways. Tumbu and putsi fly in Africa. They lay their eggs in soil, damp, or dirty clothes that are hung outside to dry. The larvae hatch and infiltrate skin areas that come into contact with the clothes. They can invade many body parts, not just the breast. Although it can occur, this is very rare. There are only a few documented cases. Parasitic maggots don’t distinguish between men and women.

In central and South America, the clever botfly lays its eggs on a blood-sucking bug, such as a mosquito. The larvae then hatch and crawl into your skin.

The larvae can cause itching under the skin. This may lead to a sore that resembles a boil and possibly ooze. Because they need to breathe, they tend to stay close the skin’s surface. It is extremely unlikely that “wicked creatures”, which squirm in unison in “bosom,” are able to do so.

Opportunistic flesh-eaters

Myiasis is also possible when a fly, sometimes even a housefly, deposits larvae in a wound. In cases of gangrene Latterae can be found in decaying tissue and may help keep the wound clean. Others, however, are called “opportunistic”. They can enter surrounding tissue and even burrow within it.

Accidental flesh-eaters

Myiasis can happen by chance very occasionally. Maggots can enter the body through contaminated foods or contact with the urogenital system in poor hygiene cases. Flies are attracted to the smell of urine and faeces.

Opportunistic or accidental myiasis situations are rare. They usually occur when invalids neglect wounds or have poor hygiene. It is possible to prevent myiasis in these cases by providing basic health care and keeping your environment free of flies. Even if you do eat maggots, chances are that they will not survive.

Bacon therapy and other remedies

Although myiasis is not usually serious, most cases should be treated. Most parasitic larvae under the skin are easily removed and will eventually leave the host. However, most people don’t want to wait.

Lapteres breathe through small holes in their skin. They will wriggle free if the skin is covered with oil or vaseline. You can also try to lure the larvae out with a piece meat placed over the area. This is called “bacon therapy” by medical entomologists.

You can also remove larvae with a needle or forceps, but only if a doctor is involved. Infection can occur if a part of the larva remains in the body.

You can make sure this doesn’t happen again

Parasitic maggots can be a problem if you travel to areas where they are common. Here are some ways to prevent this from happening:

Good personal hygiene is important

Avoid soil that is likely to be contaminated with human excrement

If clothes were hung outside, wash and dry them thoroughly. Iron them.

Don’t go barefoot

Avoid getting bitten by insects

Make sure to keep your wounds clean.

Food should be kept covered

If you have recently returned to endemic areas, and notice unusual or persistent skin lesions, itching, or pains, consult your doctor.

Finally, you should always take any information about medical issues that you find on the internet with a pinch of salt – unless it is on a highly reputable site like this one.

(- Olivia Rose Innes, Health24. Updated October 2010).

Refer to

Adisa, CA, and Mbanaso A. Furuncular myiasis in the breast due to the larvae from the Tumbu fly (Cordylobia anthrophaga). BMC Surgery. 2004 February 29th, 4(1):5.

Brewer T; Wilson M; Gonzalez E, et al. Furuncular myiasis and Bacon Therapy. JAMA. 1993; 270:2087-2088.

Kettle, D.S. 1995, Medical and Veterinary Entomology. CAB International, Wallingford (UK).

Robertson, Hamish. 2005. Director of Natural History, Department of Entomology South African Museum. Personal Communication

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