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Once a leech is attached, what is the proper way to remove it?

(I'm assuming that the method would generic for all leeches, but if there are special kinds, please note that).

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3 Answers

Agree with both LBell and Rory Alsop.

I come from the leech infested Western Ghats of the Indian subcontinent. I must have been bitten by these guys innumerable number of times. Most of the times, just pulling them would suffice. Leeches use both a local anaesthesia and an anti coagulant. Hence, just pulling them off wont cause any pain. If you are worried about pulling off, salt/vinegar does help. I've used both. And neither has caused any infection anytime till now. Leeches aren't harbingers of infections. Ticks are. Be careful with a tick. A leech is just another sucker :D

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Just grab and pull.

Seriously, after years living in the leach-infested tropics where I would find 20 or so on me just from walking up to base-camp for breakfast, the only wrong way to remove a leech I have noticed, is by freaking out and shaking your appendage violently yelling "eeeeeewwwwww!"

Yes, as Rory Alsop mentions, gently prying the sucker away is probably the safest, but in my experience is overly cautious.

Unlike ticks, Leeches do not carry any disease, and although the bite can get infected after the fact, the anti-coagulant that the leach injects into you causes enough blood to flow that the wound is pretty well clean after you remove it... Just keep it clean.

The biggest issue is the #$%@ will try to grab on to your fingers once they are detached. Just roll it between two fingers into a little ball, or wipe it off on a nearby rock or tree.

For those who can't stand to touch one, having a small spray bottle with some irritating substance will cause the leech to let go and fall off with a quick spritz. Things I have found that work well:

  • DEET (careful of watch bands that melt)
  • rubbing alcohol
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Vodka

Note: Using this on leaches climbing up your socks carries no risk. There may be some infection risk for using this on leeches attached and sucking - though several thousand Alcohol Related Detachments later and I have not suffered a single infection (and those leech bites I've seen that do become infected are a result of people scratching the bite while it is healing -- they do itch.)

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I used to think I knew the answer to this, from having a couple of very small leeches, but this guidance from wildmadagascar.com is quite comprehensive:

  • Identify the anterior (oral) sucker which will be found at the small end of the leech.Put your finger on your skin adjacent to the oral sucker
  • Gently but firmly slide your finger toward the wound where the leech is feeding. Using your fingernail, push the sucker sideways away from your skin.
  • Once you have dislodged the oral sucker, quickly detach the posterior (rear) sucker (the fat end of the leech).
  • Try flicking the leech or prodding with your fingernail.
  • As you work to remove the leech, it will attempt to reattach itself.
  • Keep the wound clean -- minor cuts in tropical climates can quickly become infected. The leech itself is not poisonous. The wound will itch as it heals.

There are some popular methods of removal that are definitely not advised, including:

  • holding a flame or a cigarette to the leech
  • using salt, vinegar, alcohol, cola etc

These will cause the leech to quickly detach, but it will also regurgitate its stomach contents into the wound, possibly introducing disease!

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Man I hate leeches... –  Russell Steen Apr 1 '13 at 14:11
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