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Applications of leeches

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Medical applications

Introduction

WARNING : In the United States, Ricarimpex leeches may only be used as an adjunct to the healing of graft tissue when problems of venous congestion may delay healing, or to overcome problems of venous congestion by creating prolonged localized bleeding. Leeches have not been cleared by the FDA for any of the applications in general medicine described on this website or in any other source of information on medicinal leeches, scientific or otherwise.

Applications of leeches

Although a number of leech species exist, Hirudo medicinalis medicinal leeches are the ones most widely used in medicine since they are the most effective therapeutically.

RICARIMPEX has made product quality its priority: the leeches it sells have fasted for at least 3 months, have never come into contact with human blood and are fed exclusively on poultry blood.
Given the various medical uses and the application methods (number, frequency, area and application technique), RICARIMPEX considers the use of leeches to be a medical procedure that needs to be supervised by a health professional – at least the first time – since certain precautions are necessary when applying leeches.

RICARIMPEX sells only Hirudo medicinalis leeches.
They weigh between 1 g and 2 g and have been fasted for a period of at least 3 months. Since the digestion of leeches is very slow, this period is essential in order for them to feel the need for another meal. This phase means that the leeches attach themselves better when applied to patients and ensures that they take a complete meal guaranteeing the efficacy of the treatment .

As a result of its traceability rules, the company can guarantee its customers that they are being supplied with leeches that have had no previous contact with human blood; the leeches take their blood meals in controlled conditions in the company’s laboratories: the blood used comes from poultry destined for human consumption. In addition, the leeches are for single use only and are destroyed after use by immersion in bleach.

To ensure they attach themselves more easily, the skin must first be washed with soapy water to eliminate any odours and any traces of products (perfume, cream, etc.) that could disturb the animal.
The number of leeches to be applied is determined on the basis of the therapeutic effect sought, the patient’s condition and the patient himself (age, medical history, contraindications).

RICARIMPEX does not provide documents concerning application since it wants people not trained in this practice to seek advice from a health professional (doctor, pharmacist) before using them.

Different methods are recommended to facilitate application. A compress is the easiest method for applying a large number of leeches. A tight bandage holds the compress – and hence the leeches – in place.
A shot glass or glass tube can be used to apply leeches to a precise area and to visually check that they attach themselves.

The action of the leech bite involves two components: first of all, the blood it takes for its meal, followed by a haemorrhage; secondly, the injection of salivary secretions into the blood stream. The leech falls off spontaneously after sucking for around 20 to 45 minutes. It is preferable to wait until the annelid falls off itself rather than to pull it off since this could cause a larger scar and lead to loss of the benefits of leech application.
The haemorrhage subsequent to the bite is very important, with total blood loss of up to 60 g. This loss may be higher or lower on the basis of the therapeutic effect sought and individual sensitivity. Oxygenated water can be used to stop the haemorrhage.

The risks and contraindications

This type of treatment, using living organisms, presents a potential infectious risk. However, a variety of measures are taken to guarantee patients the use of a safe and certified medical device.

In the breeding process, all the animals are guaranteed not to have come into any contact with human blood. However, the leech is not sterile and, like any living organism, carries germs which are of no risk to healthy individuals but which can represent a risk of infection in immuno-depressed individuals. Leeches carry symbiotic hosts, Aeromonas hydrophila and Pseudomonas hirudinis, essential to its digestion but which can, in rare cases, be a source of infection. Aware of this risk, hospitals can implement two preventive measures: external decontamination using an active antibiotic solution or prophylactic antibiotic treatment in individuals at risk.

The possible complications include occasionally significant haemorrhages subsequent to a bite on a vein or artery. Allergic urticaria (hives) can also occur, often very localised around the bite site and disappearing in a few days.

There are a few contraindications to leech therapy: hypotension, haemorrhagic diseases (haemophilia, for example), anaemia and anticoagulant treatment.