Editor's Note: The video of leeches used in surgery is a bit bloody — especially after the 2-minute mark.
Leeches get a bad rap — but they might not deserve it.
Yes, they're creepy crawly blood-suckers. And they can instill an almost primal sense of disgust and revulsion. Humphrey Bogart's character in the 1951 filmThe African Queeneven went so far as to call them "filthy little devils."
But the humble leech is making a comeback. This critter is increasingly playing a key role as a sidekick for scientists and doctors, simply by being its bloodthirsty self.
Distant cousins of the earthworm, most leech species are parasites that feed on the blood of animals and humans alike. They are often found in freshwater and navigate either by swimming or inching themselves along, using two suckers — one at each end of their body — to anchor themselves. Most species range from about a quarter inch to three inches in length.
Upon reaching an unsuspecting host, a leech will surreptitiously attach itself and begin to feed. It uses a triangular set of three teeth to cut in, and secretes a suite of chemicals to thin the blood and numb the skin so its presence goes undetected.
Some leech species can also live on land, thriving in humid environments like the forests of southern Asia. Biologistsrecently reportedthat leeches in that region can provide a valuable snapshot of which animals are present in a particular area: The parasites carry their host's blood, and DNA, within their gut after each meal.
"They find things you don't find," saidMichael Tessler, a postdoctoral scholar at theAmerican Museum of Natural Historyin New York. As an added bonus (depending on your perspective), leeches are also attracted to humans as potential blood meals, he said. Thus, the creatures do not shy away from researchers, making sample collection quick and easy.
Tessler and several colleagues gathered 750 terrestrial leeches in the genusHaemadipsafrom Cambodia, Bangladesh and southern China. Then, they analyzed the DNA from each inch-long leech's meal to identify the unwitting blood donors. With this analysis, the scientists were able to identify wild and domestic animals common in those areas, including some species of concern for conservation.
The study also revealed a few surprises. Some leech meals had come from a few bird species, and one came from a bat. "Clearly these things get around," Tessler said.
Beyond their utility in field biology, leeches have an important role to play in a surgeon's medical kit.
The association between doctors and leeches dates back to the ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks. According to Greek philosophers, illness was the result of an imbalance in bodily fluids, or humors. They believed that applying leeches to patients would help restore a proper balance. Leeches were widely used as a cure-all for an array of ailments, especially in medieval Europe.
These practices were relegated to the status of quackery by the advent of modern medicine in the 20th century as doctors developed new, more effective treatments. Nowadays, however, medical leeches are experiencing a renaissance as their bloodsucking ability is tuned to a more scientific purpose.
Leeches come in handy during reconstructive surgeries, such as those to reattach fingers, according to Dr. Rudolf Buntic, a hand surgeon and director of microsurgery forCalifornia Pacific Medical Centerin San Francisco. During such a procedure, surgeons repair small arteries that carry blood into the severed digit. However, the tiny veins that carry blood back out may be too damaged or too small to repair, leaving blood to stagnate in the finger.
That's whenHirudo medicinaliscomes in.
"The leech acts as a vein," said Buntic.
It draws stale blood out of the reattached finger as it feeds, allowing fresh, oxygenated blood to come in. Chemicals in the leech's saliva also help prevent blood clots from forming in the damaged tissue. Doctors apply fresh leeches over the course of about ten days. This provides enough time for new, tiny veins to regrow and create channels for blood to leave the patient's finger on its own, Buntic said.
Throughout the treatment, surgeons order leeches from the pharmacy, just as they would any other medicine.
If these little guys still give you the heebie-jeebies, don't worry: They probably won't be showing up at your local drugstore anytime soon, as they're primarily used in hospitals.
You might run into them in some research labs, however.David Weisblat, a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley, has been studying leech development and evolution for more than 40 years. He's recently started a project to learn more about leech behavior and neurobiology.
This involves placing the leeches onto a checkerboard of sorts, made of sandpaper. The squares alternate between rough and smooth grains. Many of the leeches, small snail-hunters in the genusHelobdella, have a strong preference for the smoother squares, moving in strictly diagonal patterns.
"It's like a little pawn on the chessboard that's gone crazy," Weisblat said.
Though leeches may have an unimpressive nervous system by vertebrate standards, they are still capable of using information from their environment to make decisions, said Weisblat. And figuring out how this process works is easier in a leech than in the nervous system of mice or rats. In understanding how leeches find their way around with so few neurons, we can begin to understand how the nervous system processes and encodes information, Weisblat said.
Capturing the way leeches sense and move through their environment could also one day translate to bioengineering applications, like designing small, exploratory robotics, said Weisblat. "Leeches can go on glass surfaces, crawling with their suckers, and exploring all sorts of different ways," he said.
"It's pretty amazing, when you think about how simple they are."
Emma Hiolskiis a freelance science journalist and intern with KQED'sDeep Look video series.Her work has appeared inScience, Chemical & Engineering NewsandThe San Jose Mercury News.You can find her on Twitter @EHiolski.
For thousands of years before modern science-based medicine became the norm, bloodletting, frequently by leeches, was considered something of a medical cure-all. The treatment’s persistence was at least partially attributable to the Ancient Greek physician Hippocrates’ ‘four humours’ theory of disease, which held that illness was the result of an imbalance of the bodily fluids black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood. With the rise of modern scientific medicine near the end of the 18th century, bloodletting leeches were relegated to the quack cabinet as doctors realised that the practice generally fixed very little, leaving patients weak and vulnerable from blood loss. But as this video from the science and nature documentary seriesDeep Lookshows (in occasionally graphic, ultra-HD detail that is, perhaps, not for the squeamish), medical leeches have made a surprising comeback in hospitals, especially during reconstructive surgeries. Learn more about this video at the KQED Sciencewebsite.
1. Will Leech Therapy help with my Medical Condition?
Leeches have been widely-used as a "panacea" treatment since ancient times. They are helpful in almost all diseases, conditions and symptoms. In rare cases, there are contra-indications against the use of medical leeches. But whatever your illness, it is worth while to try leech treatment as it is a natural remedy, a non-invasive therapy method, often times it can save you from having an operation and in some cases it saves lives.
2. How Many Hirudo Leeches do I need, to treat my Disease?
Leeches have been used since ancient times, not invented by us humans nor do we impart any innovation into their work. Leeches are the healers and the doctors and not man. This fact has proven itself over the span of centuries. For starters, we recommend placement of 10 leeches on targeted points of your body. This is done, so as not to overload the bloodstream with too much hirudin on the first session. After the first session of 10 medicinal Hirudo Leeches,, therapy should continue by placing medical leeches equal to your body weight in kilos, divided by ten, on a weekly basis. Over the course of several months, execute this leech therapy as described, will perform the job of healing and bloodletting and will have . Of course you can put many more depending on your situation and needs. The maximum that is admissible in one session is 40-50 leeches. Most modern trends in Hirudotherapy apply even groups of 50 to 60 leeches session in chronic and severe cases this number leeches are placed in designated locations disease or only in one place.
3. Where to apply Medical Leeches for each Illness?
This is the most difficult question in Hirudotherapy. Basically, there are acupuncture points in the body along the meridians for each separate entity. Meridians that govern the activities of the body. The energy that moves along the meridians and collected in acupuncture points is one that is stimulated by leeches' therapy. Treatment with leeches, body parts of their placement and other typical hirudotherapy specificities take a lifetime to learn and master. We have created alibrary of informative videosabout hirudotherapyin certain diseases.
4. I Wish to Order Hirudo Medicinalis Leeches. How do I find a Leech Seller?
Medical leeches can be paid for by Credit Card, Debit Card, PayPal or Bank Transfer. Leech orders are placed on a dispatch list and shipped twice a week to their worldwide destinations. The Hirudo leaches almost always arrive alive safe and sound. Leeches take 2-3 days to arrive to your address and they can survive up to 7 day trip and if properly packaged, leeches CAN live up to 10 days in shipping containers!
6. Can I Consult with a Specialist About my Disease and the Specifics of my Health Situation?
You canarrange a leech therapy consultation here. Experts are available to advise you on any specific and personal question you may have regarding how you feel and the symptoms of your condition. Leech Treatment consultations are a good way to start your hirudotherapy journey towards healing. Besides asking about your health and disease prevention, you may also consult with our specialist and question them about breeding & raising bloodsucking leeches in a small hirudotherapy farm or becoming a home-based leech breeder, as well as have the opportunity to learn and ask questions about how to keep leeches as pets.
7. Are Medicinal Leeches Used in Veterinary Medicine?
8. I Think I Need a Hirudotherapist to Apply my Leeches!
You can arrange a hirudotherapy appointment here and aleech consultation here. Treatment with leeches is very special activity that takes years to learn and master. It is an art in itself and is not for everyone. Many people feel confident that they themselves can implement leech treatment with the clinical bloodsuckers, whereas others need the services of a professional in this field. Although the price of a leech would triple, as treatment with leeches is a luxury that not everyone can afford, for certain patients Hirudotherapy is the only answer.
9. Leeches have been Extensively Used in Medicine.
The hospital systems worldwide orders approximately 20 000 HIrudo Medisinalis leeches, to treat surgery patients after operations. Leaches are used to drain the excess accumulated blood and lymphatic fluid after a surgery operation. Health systems the world over, serving patients have implemented the use of leeches in their methods of treatment protocols and in some countries they are prized as high as the top healers themselves. Our company receives leech orders for medical leeches worldwide. Should you delay your leech order even by single week, this may cost you the worsening of your health condition, which can lead to serious consequences.
10. Does it Hurt to get Bitten by a Leech?
Leech bites are not painful. Some compare him with a weak current, others with mosquito bites, third, feel that it mimics the feeling of tingling sensation with a small needle. Your clinical leech biting is not at all a painful sensation, some even find the feeling enjoyable. After the first few minutes, the sensation completely disappears, as the leech injects its hirudin into your bloodstream, along with its antiseptic pain relieving substances and leech saliva components.
11. How do You Care for Bloodsucking Hirudo Leeches?
Leeches are cared for relatively easily. The most important thing is their water needs to be changed weekly and they are not kept in a hot location or exposed to direct sunlight. Leeches kept in clean tap water will live to up to a year, unfed. The medicinal leech Hirudo Medicinalis feeds only on blood of mammals and does not "eat" anything else!
12. How Soon can I repeat My Leech Treatment?
Leeches can be reapplied as early as four days after the first treatment or as much as 25 days apart.
13. Can I Re-Use my Leeches?
Leeches are not known to transmit infectious or disease, because they do not have the back-valves that other insects have (such as mosquitoes & flies). Nevertheless, it is not advisable to use leeches on anybody else after the first therapy session. After the leech has digested its first portion of blood that it has sucked from you in approximately 3 to 6 months, depending on the size of the leech, it will be ready to suck again. In medicine, leeches are considered medical instruments and are killed, immediately following therapy. If you disagree with this treatment of live animals and find it an inhumaine treatment, you may choose to care for your leeches and raise them as house pets. Some people re-use and re-apply their leeches on themselves, as soon as they are ready to suck blood again.
14. Where do Your Leeches Come from? Are they Certified?
Our company has a contractual relationships with the most renowned European bio-farms for medicinal leeches. All of the bio-farm production that we stock is certified and thus suitable to be used in a clinical setting. Certificates belong to the bio-farm producers and are issued by that State in which the farm is based. Leech production certificates are proprietary documents and not usually available to the general public. Leeches.com is a worldwide distributor of medical-grade premium quality leeches.
15. How Long do Leeches Drink Blood?
Blood-sucking clinical leeches need approximately 20-45 minutes to drink all the blood they need for one meal. This is also the duration of a leech therapy session with a professional hirudotherapist. If the patient's blood circulation of the patient is slow and stagnant, hirudo leeches will take longer to finish the bloodsucking process. The leech needs additional 10-15 minutes to suck from such patients. Leeches fall alone by itself when filled with blood.
16. I am a Hirudoterapist and I run Leech Spa or Studio for Hirudotherapy. Can we Work together or Collaborate?
Our collaboration with leech therapy studios and spas dates back to 2013. We work alongside managers of cosmetic and hirudotherapy leech clinic and health leech spas to bring the best deals and specials for the establishment you run. We offer spa center owners and mangers to to take advantage of thespecial discount packageand wholesale prices. We also cooperate together on several consultancy levels to provide our the patients services and advice with regards to their leech therapy options. Our specialists provide a professional expertise and literature to the attention of the patient as well as a special discount to the spa patients.
We also provideFREE advertising space on Leeches.com for any Hirudotherapist, practicing from all over the world. We invite every leech healer of professional and non-professional standing, to advertise their services. Our advertising space is completely Free and all you need is to prepare a unique one-page summary of your experience with leeches, accompanied by a picture of yourself, your premises or your leeches and we will post your ad on Leeches.com for free.Contact us here to advertise hirudotherapy for free on Leeches.com
Leeches are making a medical comeback,at least in Russia. Seen as a cheaper option in an underfunded health system, leeches are sometimes used in place of expensive blood thinners or as a homeopathic cure for a variety of ailments. It seems backward, but leeches do have a long history in medical care dating back thousands of years.
In Europe, themedical leech’s heyday was the nineteenth century. Their use was so pervasive that France used 33 million leeches just in the year 1827. Sweden was a major European leech producer, but excessive exports coupled with a supply dip led to a severe domestic leech shortage in 1843. In the latter part of the century leeches were still widely available, often prescribed for specific conditions such as heart or liver inflammation. They were also offered over-the-counter at pharmacies.
Nineteenth century physicians got thebloodlettingidea from the widespread notion that diseases “counter- irritate” each other. For example, noting that vomiting and diarrhea often led to swift recovery from intestinal illness, they hypothesized that purging must cause some a counter-action that negates the original illness. As vomiting helpedupset stomachs, the theory went, then blood removal might help various other maladies. Over time localized leeches were seen as a superior option to cutting, especially in young or infirm patients.
Some precautions were required. The anticoagulants and vasodilators in leech saliva meant that uncontrolled bleeding was a potentially dangerous side effect. Many physicians avoided evening leeches for fear of uncontrolled bleeding all night long. Neck applications were particularly dangerous, as post-leech bleeding could be difficult to stop. Leeches were similarly not applied directly to sensitive areas such as the genitals, rectum, or tumors. Leeches applied inside the throat were attached to a string to prevent swallowing. Application to the eyelids, especially the underside, could lead to injury and was discouraged.
A leech could be induced to drop off a patient with a pinch of salt, or else would let go on its own when full. A leech could be reused by forcing it to regurgitate its blood meal, a process known as stripping.
Harvesting leeches was not for the faint of heart; many leech fishermen waded in murky waters using their own legs as bait. An even more horrifying method saw old horses driven into leech habitat, then withdrawn covered in the worms. The horses were not given sufficient recovery times between “fishing” trips and by the end of the season they were dead.
Believe it or not, medicinal leeches are still used today.They are especially helpful when veins are damagedand unable to properly drain blood from extremities—for example, in recently reattached amputations. Leeches can spread infections, so modern leeches are used only once. And just because they are large, bloodsucking, annelid worms with a checkered history in medicine, doesn’t mean leeches are always viewed with dread. Rather than being grossed out, some patients report becoming emotionally attached to their leeches.
EDUCATE YOURSELF It is a good idea to acquire some basic understand of leeches, leech therapy and the concept of bloodletting. This is best done by watching some of your favorite leech therapist’s educational videos on leeches. With this knowledge and basic understanding, you will be capable of making an educated choice regarding your leech therapy options.
CONTACT A MOBILE LEECH THERAPIST Find a leech therapy practitioner in your area.
ARRANGE AN APPOINTMENT Make sure he / she can and will travel to your home to perform the hirudotherapy
READ UP ON HOW GET READY Once terms are agreed and leech therapy appointment is set, be sure to get ready for your therapy session.
PREPARE THE BATHROOM When your leech therapist arrives at your home, be sure to provide them clear access to the bathroom, as they will need to change leech water. Due to the long travel over several hours, leeches would have experienced a certain amount of stress and would have released certain amounts of secretion into the water, which will need to be changed immediately upon arrival. Your hirudotherapy healer will also need to wash their hands and prepare themselves hygienically, for the therapy to come. Make sure you have all necessary toiletries in your bathroom, for them to do so.
CHOOSE A PLACE FOR THERAPY As leacher and leeches are ready to begin, you will be asked to show the place you have chosen for your therapy. Upon seeing it, they may or may not make different suggestions or recommendations. If the place of therapy is suitable, they will ask to see if all other preparations are in place.
KITCHEN PAPER TOWELS You will have had to purchase either kitchen towels or tissues and or Kleenex tissue paper. The hirudotherapist will need this paper to constantly wipe off the secreting leeches as well as the oozing blood after therapy. Make sure you prepare ample amounts of absorbent wiping papers for this purpose beforehand.
TRASH BIN There needs to be an empty trash bin in the room, lined with a trash bag, which bin will get filled up quickly with those used-up tissue papers.
WARM ROOM The leeches therapy professional will also ask you to make the room warm and comfortable for them to work in. Be sure to have a heating on.
QUIET ROOM Since leeches require peaceful and calm environments to effectively do their clinical work, there will need to be complete silence in the room. Any distraction will deter the optional function of the leeches. Ensure that there are no working TVs or Radios in the therapy room you have decided to use. Ensure also that there are no noisy or curious relatives around, who will comment out loud on the therapy procedure and will distract the leeches and the therapist in their work. Do not talk endlessly to the hirudotherapist, asking them questions or various sorts. They need complete and absolute silence to work in. If there is anyone else present in the room, be sure to instruct them to remain silent during the Leech Therapy session and provide their assistance to the hirudo therapist, as needed.
CRACK A WINDOW OPEN Ensure there is at least one open window in the room, so as to providea fresh air environment for the leeches and leech therapist to work in. Fresh air is closest to their natural environment and leeches will do a better job when they are made to feel comfortable.
OPEN UP THE CURTAINS Ensure all windows, curtains and blinds are pulled away from the windows and the room is flooded with natural lighting. Your hirudotherpist cannot work in the dark or artificial lighting conditions, as they will require the maximum amount of natural lighting to accomplish their job and aid the curative functions of the leeches they have brought with them.
ELIMINATE ODORS All smells, fragrances and odors of any kind must be absolutely eliminated from the working environment of the leeches. Leeches do not bite when they smell soap, perfume, colon, deodorant, room fresher, shampoo or lotion. It is best to take out all smells from the room, and not take a shower at least 24 hours prior to therapy. Leeches can work with sweaty body but they cannot work with a perfumed body or in an aromatized room.
PREPARE FEMININE PADS Prepare a pack of heavy-duty feminine pads, the kind used by women, when they are on their monthly cycle. Bandages or plasters cannot contain the 10-hour blood oozing that will take place after leech therapy and the draining out of lymphatic fluids. You may also buy a pack of baby swim pants or incontinence pads for the elderly, if you are having more than 10 leeches applied on your skin and you think you might need them. Vaginal leeching inside the vagina will definitely require one of the more heavier types of pads.
BUY MASKING TAPE Masking tape is another handy wound dressing item to have, to help you do your own bandaging after the therapy session. Although it is not a requirement for therapy, it will be beneficial to have, because once the hirudotherapist leaves your home, you will be left to dress the leech bite yourself.
LARGE TOWEL Prepare one or more large old towelsto lay on, during and after leech therapy. Your towel will come in very handy, when your 10-hour post-therapy blood oozing begins, after your hirudotherapist has left. You may even choose to wrap yourself in that towel, to help absorb the oozing blood. Some patients prefer using towels to bandaging materials, especially when they are staying in the house and not planning to out anywhere post-therapy.
GET PAYMENT READY Prepare your leech therapy payment nearby, to hand to the therapist, before, during or after your therapy. You will need to have it ready and nearby and hand it to your leech therapy healer whenever possible, as you will experience limited mobility afterward therapy, due to the plentiful 10-hour bleeding.
HAVE AN ASSISTANT It is not a bad idea to have a quiet assistant on the side, ready to hand your leech therapist materials and supplies necessary during your therapeuticsession. This assistant must remain as quiet as possible, so as to not disturb the work of the leeches. If you manage to secure someone from your household, family or relatives to assist, your therapy will go much quicker and more efficient than usual.
PROVIDE LIGHT REFRESHMENTS for your hirudo therapist. During the application of leeches on your body, the therapist will want to sit and rest at some point, to have a cup of tea, while waiting for the leeches to finish sucking. Ask your assistant or prepare some light drinks or refreshments for your hirudotherapist during that time. Make sure you do not shower him / her with questions and talking, so as to allow leeches to release their hirudin in peace and finish their bloodsucking job. Allow silence and peace for your therapist to enjoy refreshment while she/he takes a break in the middle of therapy, during the leech sucking phase.
ARRANGE YOUR FOLLOW-UP APPOINTMENT If your leech therapy professional has advised you to book another session for your particular medical condition, be sure to book your next appointment at the time of your first therapy and while your therapist is still there in the room, as to get the best available time.Your therapist will inform you how long you must wait between sessions to have your followup leech application.
YOU ARE DONE!
Now that you are finished receiving your leech therapy treatments, you can enjoy the refreshing therapeutic effects of the injected hirudin and the plentiful bloodletting and detox that just took place in your body.