Leeches might seem scary, but they’re actually fascinating creatures that have been used in medical therapy for years. Although their presence can be unnerving, leech ‘bites’ are usually harmless and can be removed without needing medical attention. It’s important to watch for signs of infection or allergic reactions, but these occurrences are quite rare.
Contrary to popular belief, leeches don’t bite; they latch onto your skin using suction. Most people don’t feel a leech feeding until they see the blood afterwards. Leeches can cause itchiness for a few hours or even a day, but removing them quickly and safely can minimize discomfort.
There isn’t much medical research on the best techniques for leech removal. Using methods harmful to the leech, like applying salt, fire, pulling, or sprays – may cause the leech to regurgitate. A leech regurgitating into a wound, especially before removal, may increase the risk of infection. Breaking the suction with a fingernail or credit card can remove the leech more quickly without giving it time or reason to regurgitate.
Preventing Leech Encounters
Leeches are typically found in warm, moist areas and use heat and carbon dioxide sensors to locate hosts. They usually wait on the ground or plants, attaching to passing people and migrating to areas with softer skin.
Clothing: Wearing long pants tucked into socks or using anti-leech socks and gaiters can help prevent leeches from finding soft skin to latch onto. However, covering up also makes it harder to spot a leech if it does attach.
Repellent: Applying insect repellent before heading out can discourage leeches from latching on. Some clothing can be treated with repellent, and it can also be applied to the skin. However, using repellent to remove a leech is not recommended due to the risk of infection from regurgitation.
First Aid for Leech ‘Bites’
- DRSABCD: Follow standard first aid procedures.
- Reassure: Calm the person, as the sight of a leech can cause anxiety. Talking to the person with the leech through doing these steps themselves can some people.
- Taut Skin: Gently pull the skin under the leech until it’s taut, and maintain for the next step
- Slide a Fingernail: Gently slide a fingernail under the leech’s mouth to separate it from the skin. Encourage the person to use their own fingernail to remove the leech, but if they can’t, then consider using a credit card or the back of a knife (not the sharp edge) to avoid the risk of infection. Alternatively, you can wait for the leech to fall off naturally, which usually takes about 30 minutes.
- Flick Away: flick the leech away in a few sections before it reattaches.
- Clean the Wound: Wash the wound with water and apply an antiseptic to help avoid infection.
- Cover the Wound: Use a simple adhesive pad, if blood soaks through, add another absorbent pad and bandage.
- Monitor: Seek medical aid if there are signs of allergy or infection. Itchiness is common after removal; avoid scratching the site.