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in: Outdoor/Survival, Skills, Visual Guides

• Last updated: June 1, 2021

How to Remove a Leech

How to Remove a Leech illustration.

Typically found in freshwater environments, leeches are tiny monsters come to life from a science fiction movie. Shaped like worms but equipped with suckers and teeth, they attach to your skin with one goal in mind: suck your blood. The danger in removing one of these little blood lovers comes from the bacteria that’s housed in their stomach. Rip them off carelessly and you risk pushing that bacteria into your open wound, causing a dangerous infection. Likewise, common removal techniques like salting and burning the leech have their own negative consequences, like making the leech vomit that bad stuff into your wound. If you find yourself functioning as an all-you-can-eat buffet, get rid of your best customer the right way.

  1. Don’t panic. Leeches don’t transmit diseases and aren’t poisonous. In fact, it’s more harmful to remove them the wrong way than simply let them do their business.
  2. If you find one leech, check for others. They release an anesthetic so their bites are painless; where there’s one, there’s likely more.
  3. If you can stomach it, wait for the leech to finish its meal and detach naturally, which takes about 20 minutes.
  4. Otherwise, use a flat-edged tool like a credit card or your fingernail to carefully press the leech’s narrow head to the side until it detaches from your skin.
  5. Flick it off quickly; once the leech is detached, it will try to re-attach to your skin.
  6. Treat as needed. Leeches inject the wound with an anticoagulant. Wash and bandage the area, and be prepared to change them regularly for up to a couple days. If it bleeds beyond that, see a doctor.

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Illustration by Ted Slampyak

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