ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel

The Leech: the Secret Life of a Bloodletter

Updated on July 14, 2010

The leech and medicine

The leech has been made infamous by its use in medicine as a method of bloodletting. Bloodletting was a ferociously persistent but erroneous idea that certain diseases were the result of too much blood causing an imbalance in one’s internal fluids or humors. The leech was a preferred method of draining blood. In all fairness it should be pointed out that many leech species are predators rather than parasites. However, the blood suckers did have some ideal traits for bloodletting, given their feeding method.

Leeches tend to inhabit water or particularly damp environments. They are external parasites and as such they have evolved methods of attaching themselves to their hosts without the host even knowing they are there. They attach with an interior and posterior sucker. They typically anesthetize the area where they bite. They then inject an anti-coagulant, named huridin (after their scientific classification Hirudinea). This makes blood flow readily and the leech gorges itself. From the leech’s prospective it would be ideal for it to attach on, quickly gorge itself (with blood several times its body weight) and detach without the host noticing its presence.

As their application was so painless and they drew blood so effectively they were favored blood letters. In the nineteenth century more effective remedies were developed and the leech fell out of favor until recently, where they have been found useful to deal with certain complications of surgery (when, as one might imagine, blood flow has been impeded for various reasons). Scientists are also curious about hirudin as many prevalent diseases like heart disease and strokes, are caused by blockage of blood vessels.


Leech crawling on rock
Leech crawling on rock
medical leeches on sale in Istanbul for eczemas (skin condition) and varices (distended veins)
medical leeches on sale in Istanbul for eczemas (skin condition) and varices (distended veins)

Leeches in the wild

So what happens if you encounter leeches in the wild? How might one prevent leeches from attaching and how do you get a leech off? Leeches like water and dampness. The fastest way to get a leach stuck on you is to put your exposed skin into bodies of water with leeches in them. (This is actually an effective method for harvesting them for sale.) Covering exposed skin is prudent, but like many smaller animals they have a way of getting past such things. However the individual leech should not be much of a concern, its bite is painless and is not capable of removing enough blood to be much of a threat.

Still, some care should be put into removing a leech because if it is removed improperly it may regurgitate its blood into your now open wound. The leech is attached by suckers. It doesn’t bury into the flesh at all (although it does bite), so the best method is to detach the suckers by sliding your finger nails under the leech and breaking the seal (there’s on one both ends). This leads the leech to close its jaws and it can be brushed aside. The one thing to note is that the wound, having been injected with hirudin will bleed much long than a normal wound of the same size. The wound has to be kept clean but leeches generally do not pass on infections, since they can gorge in enough blood in a single feeding to last them for months

Some fun facts

The leech is actually a worm. Like the earthworm it is an annelid, or segmented worm (34 segments to be precise)

The leech is dependent on certain forms of bacteria to digest the blood it gorges

Owing much to overharvesting (among other reasons), the European medical leech is considered threatened.

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No comments yet.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, hubpages.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://hubpages.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)