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 film The African Queen even 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. Biologists recently reported that 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," said Michael Tessler, a postdoctoral scholar at the American Museum of Natural History in 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 genus Haemadipsa from 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 for California Pacific Medical Center in 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 when Hirudo medicinalis comes 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 genus Helobdella, 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 Hiolski is a freelance science journalist and intern with KQED's Deep Look video series. Her work has appeared in Science, Chemical & Engineering News and The San Jose Mercury News. You can find her on Twitter @EHiolski.
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.
Find a leech therapy practitioner in your area.
Make sure he / she can and will travel to your home to perform the hirudotherapy
Once terms are agreed and leech therapy appointment is set, be sure to get ready for your therapy session.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Ensure there is at least one open window in the room, so as to provide a 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
Prepare one or more large old towels to 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.
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.
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 therapeutic session. 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.
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.
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!
So Today you probably wondering why is Tsetsi dressed so scantily?
Well thats because I’m about to show you some of the good points on the body of applying leeches as well as some of the scarring that a-curse.
So let me show you now I’ve had over two hundred maybe tree hundred could be four hundred leeches applied on myself.
And over the years I’ve had some scaring that I should point out to you.
So that you are aware.
Smaller leeches usually either don’t leave any scars only very very small tiny little scars.
Medium leeches the same thing.
Certain parts of the body are scarred, other parts are not.
Large leeches however may leave a mark so be wary and be careful with the large leeches.
Cosmetic leeches on the other hand usually never ever leave a mark.
Regardless of where you put them on the body.
They pretty much sort of like the bite is like a mosquito bite or bite from any kind of insect.
So therefore is not gonna leave a mark.
So now lets start with my face.
All my face I’ve had leeches applied on my forehead.
I don’t know if I can find pictures to post but.
One two tree or four places on my forehead have had quite large leeches in fact.
And the scars, the marks they stayed for about I’d say about a month.
I had some marking and it was difficult to go to work with the with the wounds but finally I got over it and they run away.
So right now you can’t really see anything but I’ll find pictures and I’ll post pictures to see how it was before.
And they were quite large.
I put really large ones on my forehead.
The reason I did that is because an older woman from Bulgaria had said to Jelio that she whenever she has a headache she puts leeches on her forehead and whenever she feels not completely you know in the best of conditions she puts them on her forehead.
So I decided to try the forehead and I did not feel any different to be honest.
So I’ve discontinued placing them on my forehead.
Now behind the ears I’ve had so many leeches placed behind my ears that I can’t even count.
And there is absolutely no scaring.
I don’t know if you can see, hopefully you can.
But there is nothing really to speak off.
And I’ve put really large leeches behind my ears.
Apparently this aria is very very easily regenerated.
It is it is thin skin it is sensitive.
And it regenerates quote easily.
I’ve had leeches placed on the size of my face there is nothing.
Really nothing nothing on my face
But I’ve put lots of leeches on my face.
And I know that my friend Jelio has put leeches on top of his nose.
He put leeches here quite allot.
He put leeches pretty much everyone his face like here.
Nothing no scaring no what so ever.
The face is easily regenerated.
Its quick regenerater you could say.
But trying be wary of the size you put on your face even doe.
The face regenerate quickly and easily.
You might still experience some scarring if you put a really huge you know a big boy on it.
So I be careful if I were you.
Next place I’ve had leeches applied on my throat.
Kind of like Dracula.
I am not even sure which sight it was like either here or here.
If you can see anything let me know because I don’t see anything.
And I’ve had quite allot I mean I was it was just like Dracula.
It was like allot of them sucking from one sight or the other of my throat.
And they were big.
At that time I didn’t care.
I wasn’t bored about scarring.
I was just I was Just trying to resolve some kind of condition.
And so yeah there is nothing to show.
But yeah I think the throat is easily regenerated aria so you don’t have to worry about that.
Next aria right lets see right here if I am not mistaken.
Right in this aria I had a bump.
So right here I did have a bump like a fresh fresh lump or you know those raised arias where you have like a hard bump.
So when I had that bump I put about seven leeches here.
And if you watch my video where I compare paling jels you can kind of see the little black dots sort of like you can’t really see them.
They are not scars but you can kind of see that I put leeches but you can’t really tell it was leeches that I put on them.
But if you watch that video maybe I will link it below but you will see there is something visible there.
And that was about two tree weeks maybe.
Maybe two weeks after I done it.
So that went away the lump the bump run away completely and the scaring run away.
The leeches were not that large.
So again I am showing you there is really nothing left as far as scaring has concerned.
Now on my back right here and like everywhere on my back I’ve had leeches.
I’ve had so many here, I don’t know if you can see hopefully you can.
I had so many leeches right in this aria.
And whatever is left I don’t think its much.
And in fact the largest leech I ever seen in my whole life bite me right here.
If I can find the video I will uploaded to youtube one day.
That leech was so huge.
It was probably this long and it was probably this wide.
The leech was humungous and then it became really flat.
And it got me sort of right here.
So I don’t know if you can see but there is pretty much nothing.
Maybe there will be something there.
Maybe this could be it.
Yeah So I am quite happy.
There is not there is not anything left from those types of bites.
Now on my arms on my arms I’ve leeches placed everywhere pretty much but I don’t remember where exactly other way I’d show you.
On my veins here I’ve had allots of times leeches placed and there is nothing.
This is this is a mole this is not it.
I usually place them right here and there is nothing.
Not the other day I fed a leech on the other arm and right now you can see a bit of discoloration a sort of like a dark pigmentation on my arm but I am sure this will go away.
On my hand I’ve had at some point I experience some pain in my sort of this aria the bones.
So this aria was hurting so I decided to put lots of leeches on.
I don’t know if its visible.
There is tiny little marks here and there.
So this aria stayed with marks for a long time probably about a year.
And there is still visible, still there.
So you can kind a see like tiny little discoloration dots.
Not this this is from a different this is from a different thing.
These tiny little dots.
Ok so be wary now moving on.
I’ve had leeches placed on my liver aria.
And there is a mark there.
There is a mark there.
There is definitely marks.
I will post picture of my liver aria leech therapy
Some of the most renown leech therapist say that you should put leeches on your liver first before you put them anywhere else.
Now lets move on to other parts of the body.
On my back I had them all over my spine.
And there is really nothing, nothing to speak of nothing like scaring.
I’ve also had them right on the crack on top of this.
This aria here is very important for leech therapy.
I don’t know if any scaring is visible because I cannot see my self in that aria.
I do believe they are little bit of scars.
This was done about two year ago.
Now let me talk about this aria here.
I’m never had any leeches placed here but this aria is very important for leech therapy.
If you are to do leech therapy and place leeches here make sure not to place them exactly on this fold.
So these two fold stay away from them because there is like mature arteries and you can experience mature blood flow.
So if you are to put leeches in this aria make sure you put them about two fingers with away from this fold.
So right here would be a good aria, or on this sight but not right in the middle because the mature arteries that are going throw here.
Same applies as the aria thats down here exactly on the fold.
Don’t put them exactly there put them a bit far that this way or far that up.
My legs is difficult for me to show you.
I’ve got allots of leeches on my legs but there is no scars left.
Just the other day when I was doing the therapy on the video I did put a few sorry I did put a few leeches on my leg and this is what’s pretty much left of that
Its a bit of discoloration but this will go away.
I’ve had a manu manu manu manu a news amounts of leeches on my legs.
Really really anewmorefs amounts.
And there is really nothing left pretty much.
Except for this discoloration that took place because on the reason applications .
Thats all for now.
I can’t think of any other aria where I’ve had a leech and I haven’t shown you.
So if you got any questions let me know
Other that that I hope you like the video.
You can buy leeches from the links below.
Those are trusted resources for leech therapy and be sure to thumbs up.
And subscribe to follow me on youtube.
I put out videos every week so see you next week bye.