Parasites and Humans: Why Can’t We All Just Get Along? Introduction The definition of a parasite is: “an organism that lives on or in an organism of another species, known as the host, from the body of which it obtains nutriment.” (Dictionary.com,2012) There are several kinds of parasitic relationships in the world. Mutualism is one of them. This occurs when each member of the association benefits the other. Can humans and parasites have a mutualistic relationship in medicine?
Dating back to the B.C. era it has been believed that parasites, most commonly leeches and maggots, were the cure for various maladies. Leeches at one time were thought to cure everything from obesity to mental illness. In the early 20th century
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Maggots were removed from medicinal use in the 1930s. With the introduction of new antibiotics and better surgical techniques we found that we had a much better grasp of healing and inhibiting bacterial infections and we no longer required the use of maggots to heal open wounds. Although, in 1989 there were findings that maggot therapy was superior in certain cases to antibiotic therapy for eradicating a bacterial infection. The first modern clinical studies of maggot therapy were started at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Long Beach, CA, and at the University of California, Irvine. The results of these studies showed that the use of maggots today is still an effective and safe treatment for certain types of wounds. The reports also stated that there is no reason to use maggots as a last resort. There are published reports of a limb salvage rate of over 40% in pre-amputation maggot therapy. When this therapy was used even earlier in the course of treatment the results were even more dramatic. (Sherman, 2010) Leeches have always had their place in history as we have seen. Leech therapy was used up until the 1960s when it too was removed from medical practice. Bloodletting of sorts was taken over by modern day phlebotomy. So we again saw no need in using the old practices with the advances we had made. In the 1980s, leech therapy made a big comeback by plastic surgeons that used leeches to relieve