They really suck!

They are flattened worm-like animals. Most feed on worms, snails, insect larvae and if given the opportunity – human blood. Leeches are typically found in shallow, protected waters, concealed among aquatic plants or under stones, logs and docks. They feed off decomposing bodies and the open wounds of amphibians, reptiles, waterfowl, fish, and mammals – that’s you. A leech will attach to a host,  and stay attached until full of blood.

Bacteria, viruses, and parasites from previous blood sources can survive within a leech for months and may be retransmitted to humans. A recent study found both live HIV and hepatitis B in African leeches – so likely also traces of beer will be food in many Canadian leeches



Consider the following steps:

  1. Identify the anterior sucker which will be found at the small end of the leech,
  2. Put your finger on your skin adjacent to the oral sucker,
  3. Gently but firmly slide your finger toward the wound where the leech is feeding. Using your fingernail, push the sucker sideways away from your skin,
  4. Once you have dislodged the anterior sucker, quickly detach the posterior sucker found at the fat end of the leech. Try flicking the leech or prodding with your fingernail. As you work to remove the leech, it will attempt to reattach itself.
  5. Keep the wound clean. The wound will itch as it heals.

Inadvisable techniques:

Applying a flame, a lit cigarette, salt, soap, or a chemical such as alcohol, vinegar, lemon juice, insect repellent, heat rub, Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum ®, or carbonated drinks. These cause the leech to quickly detach, but prior to doing so, it will regurgitate its stomach contents into the wound – yuck. This “leech puke” will greatly increase the risk of infection.


After removal, the wound should be cleaned with soap and water and bandaged. Bleeding may continue for some time, due to the leech’s anti-clotting enzyme. Applying pressure can reduce bleeding, although blood loss from a single bite is not dangerous. The wound normally itches as it heals, but should not be scratched. Scratching will complicate healing and introduce other infections. An antihistamine can reduce itching. Applying a cold pack can reduce pain or swelling.

An externally attached leech will detach and fall off on its own when it is full – usually in about 20 minutes. Internal attachments, such as nasal, ear canals or vaginal passages, may require medical intervention.

Some people suffer a severe allergic reaction from leech bites and require urgent medical care. Symptoms include red blotches, an itchy rash, global swelling – particularly around the lips or eyes, feeling faint or dizzy, and difficulty breathing.


The most reliable method is to cover exposed skin. When wading in water suspected of being leech city – simply pull your socks over your pant legs. This will prevent leeches from reaching the exposed skin of the legs.



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