Making a Leech Latch On

making-a-leech-latch-onPerhaps somewhat surprisingly, leech therapy is still a valuable tool in modern-day medicine. Throughout history, these small, worm-like creatures which normally reside in rivers and ponds have been used to treat many conditions, from blood clots to headaches. These days, medical leeches are invaluable to plastic-surgeons and are not just plucked from the nearest river but are bred in sterile conditions at specialist leech farms. Once applied to the skin, leeches can suck away pooled or congested blood.

This makes them particularly useful in cases where skin reconstruction is needed after burn injury, or in any situation where many tiny blood vessels have been severed and blood may accumulate. But, it is not just a case of leading the leech to blood, because you must also make him drink. Light-hearted as this may sound, getting a leech to attach in the appropriate area can be difficult and time-consuming for all concerned.

In 2002 a surgical research fellow at RAFT published a novel method “derived through desperation”  or attaching a leech where it is needed. He describes the case of a 7-year-old boy with minor injuries caused by the glass which needed to be drained using leeches. After several attempts to attach the leech, the fellow manufactured a makeshift “leech applicator” using a section of suction tube and some surgical tape. The results, as the fellow says, “allowed easy transport and precise placement of leeches,” and best of all, “obviates any need to handle the leech itself.” The boy’s injuries were effectively treated using this method over three days, and the health of the skin around the injury was successfully maintained.


from RAFT 25 Years of Medical Discoveries first published 2013