Leeches are gross, there’s no doubt about it! However, they are a fact of life for those who venture into wet areas. There are about 700 species of leeches and while most prefer a freshwater environment, there are terrestrial and marine varieties as well.
The best way to remove a leech is to flick it off or remove it by hand. In the past, using salt or a lighter to burn the leech off was commonly recommended, but research indicates that this may cause the little critter to regurgitate. If it has already bitten you, then the contents of its stomach (which is full of bacteria and other nasty stuff) will go into an open wound and increase the risk of infection.
If a leech does attach to you, it will release an anticoagulant called hirudin, which will cause the bite to ooze blood even after the leech is removed. To treat the wound, clean it thoroughly and cover with a sterile dressing. Keep the area clean and dry and monitor the wound for signs of infection.
A recent case study by Dr. Preston J. Fedor reported in the Journal of Wilderness and Environmental Medicine (Volume 23, Issue1) shows successful use of QuikClot gauze to stop the bleeding from leech bites. This is the first time QuikClot has been used for leeches but now that we know it works, we want to get the word out to everyone!
If you are traveling into an area where leeches are likely to be, make sure to take along some QuikClot – it may come in handy!