At first look, Josue Bezerra Jr. from Fortaleza in Brazil appears to be a merman comfortably lying in a hospital bed – almost his entire arm is covered with fish skin, thus the impression.
But he is actually a human, in fact an electrical supervisor who got into an unfortunate accident on the job, whose burns are wrapped by a rather unconventional bandage: tilapia skins.
Dr. Edmar Maciel, who is a plastic surgeon, president of the Burns Support Institute, and burn specialist leading the clinical trials with tilapia skin, had attended Josue in his treatment. And despite the unusual nature of the bandage, Josue was willing to try thanks to convincing power of Dr. Maciel about the science he discovered.
“Even though I thought it was weird, the fact that he said it would take less time [to heal] and with less pain, I said, I’m up for anything, use whatever you want,” he said.
No wonder that Josue is healed now. The tilapia skin as a bandage had worked and not only with him but several other burn patients as well.
Before the tilapia skin reaches the burnt human skin, they are first sterilized with various agents and later exposed to radiation to kill the viruses before being packaged and refrigerated. Once cleaned and treated, they can last for up to two years.
What used to be considered as trash is now being used as an alternative to gauze and silver sulfadiazine cream when it comes to treating second- and third-degree burns.
The conventional treatment is an excruciating process of daily changing of the gauze and application of the cream for burn patients. But that’s not the case with the tilapia skin, which stays on the skin until it heals, at least for mild second-degree burns. Deep second-degree burns need the tilapia skin bandages to be changed a few times over several weeks.
Using tilapia skin has several advantages in burn treatments. Maciel explains, “We got a great surprise when we saw that the amount of collagen proteins, types 1 and 3, which are very important for scarring, exist in large quantities in tilapia skin, even more than in human skin and other skins.
“Another factor we discovered is that the amount of tension, of resistance in tilapia skin is much greater than in human skin. Also the amount of moisture.”
This cuts down healing time by up to several days and reduces the use of pain medication, Maciel added.
Brazil has a wide tilapia farming. The skins of tilapia fishes are usually considered as trash – well not anymore.