The last time I was attacked by leeches I thought I'd taken enough precautions such as pulling my socks over my trousers and avoiding walking through particularly wet areas or long grass but I still got them sucking on my ankles. What are the best methods to prevent them finding you interesting in the first place? And what will stop them finding your skin if they do take an interest?
- You can spray your socks/shoes with some type of deet spray or some tobacco water (soak some tobacco leaves in water).
- I've heard that salt affects leeches similarly is it does slugs, so you could carry some of that with you and rub some on your legs/feet every once and a while
- Leech socks are pretty effective as the seal off the at the knee and physically prevent the leeches from getting to you, but they may be uncomfortable.
- I've heard citrus juice works. I've never tried it, but to me it sounds made up.
The sprays will deter, the salt will make them leave, and the socks do nothing but prevent access.
I have lots of leeches in my (otherwise) lovely swimming hole which is in a creek just as it leaves a lake. I read up on possible leech deterrents and now I rub my exposed skin with just about any kind of skin cream and they all seem to work. Waterproof sunblock is my current favorite but I've also used Off (Eucalytus) and even ordinary moisturizer. I haven't yet tried a cooking oil which might be better for the environment and I bet it would work. Coconut oil is a favorite but they might just like it!
I'm too lazy on a hot day to rub stuff all over so I just do my feet and legs. The leeches don't seem to get inside a one piece bathing suit. I think they attack feet and legs because they are nearer the bottom of the lake but really don't know why my arms, shoulders, neck/head don't seem to interest them. I also hurry into deeper (about five feet) water and I think that helps. People who stand around in the shallows, especially near reeds, seem to attract some big ones.
Yesterday, my husband was fishing off a bridge in very shallow water while I swam and he got his hook caught so I bravely rescued it. Later, I had leeches (tiny ones) all over my rubber sandals but none on my feet. I was using waterproof sunblock and had already been in the water for about 20 minutes so the fact that the creme still worked was cheery.
I grew up in central Saskatchewan and leeches were just a fact of life. Any kid who wanted to go swimming just lived with the them. Now I am not so tolerant but I still love the water so I needed to find a solution when we bought a cottage in central BC.
Today, I tried something different. I put on a pair of tights and they worked perfectly, but since grey tights look seriously dorky, I'm going to try "nude" panty hose and no one will probably even notice. Not that there's anybody around except the occasional fisherman.
I know this is a bit late, but having had a lot of experience with leeches makes me believe I can add some value here.
- Salt works for both avoiding and for removing leeches. The method to apply is take a good amount of salt onto your palm, add a few drops of water to just make it a bit of a paste, and then, marinate the sides of your shoes and the top portion with this paste. Leeches won't climb beyond the salt line. You can apply the salt paste on your legs and socks as well. Reapply if the paste washes off as you cross streams or if it is raining. Most try to apply dry salt on legs and the salt doesn't stick and falls off. Hence many do not know how effective salt is for prevention. Most know salt as a leech removal agent (which it is as well).
- Tobacco - Does not work. At best, this forms a super smelly companion for you. Your trekking shoes, pants and socks will be smelly for a really long time after this.
- Deet works. This needs to be reapplied in case of a rainy trek.
- Leech socks - super uncomfortable. Partially effective. The effectiveness depends on how tight one ties the knots at the upper end of a leech sock. Also, these do not prevent the leeches from climbing on to you. They just make the leeches leave your feet alone and climb higher up (any warm place that they can find).
- Antiseptics like Dettol spray. These help to get rid of the leeches that have already climbed on to you. Spraying these will also keep the leeches away for a small amount of time (the spray tends to get washed off easily).
- Slaked lime paste (lime paste) - Does not work. At best, it'll burn your skin a bit :)
Having said this, if you are wading through a thick jungle, you will end up with leeches on your body from the plants around you. So none of these methods will help. The above mentioned methods are only for leeches that climb up from the ground. For those that are on the leaves and bushes, your best bet is to use a deet spray or dettol spray to get them off you.
Note: I've tried all of the above methods. I'm a frequent visitor to leech infested forests.
Use salt as it helps remove leeches. ( I know it works I have personally seen it work and it honestly does dry them up.) You could also just leave them to fill up and fall off and then they are gone. The biggest worry though is probably infection for incorrect methods of removal. To prevent leeches I recommend leech socks or pants as they really work but are a bit uncomfortable. Also use stockings (wear stockings). And spray yourself with insect repellent and eucalyptus oil.
Leeches found in tropical climates were found to drop off from the bite site if some salts are sprinkled over it. This is a very effective way to remove them. I had experienced this myself when I was in the southern state of Kerala, India for trekking. Unfortunately, it took over an hour to stop the bleeding from my finger. I noticed leech's reaction from salt poured over it was spontaneous and it seemed to die later from the salt. However, there is a possibility of its tooth getting stuck in the process and remain attached to the abrasion and this can cause itching/swelling and subsequently infection if not treated immediately. You should never attempt to pull it from the skin as this will cause bleeding and its residue to remain attached to our body.
I was given some horrible smelling perfume, had it in my bag and with one tiny squirt the leech fell off. The next time I went down to the dam, I sprayed it on my legs and ankles, never got a leech, although people with me did! I don't know if it's the smell, or the alcohol in the perfume, but it works for me.
From my personal experience trekking in the jungle, if the path you are walking on is infested with leeches, there is no way you can avoid them. Leeches get excited with the vibration your foot steps create, and will hang onto your shoes when they get the opportunity. Then you absolutely do not feel them climbing on your skin, nor feel them biting you. Socks are absolutely helpless. I have tried wearing 2 pairs of socks. High shoes or boots are helpless too. I found salt didn't work. What worked well was spraying this mosquito repellent on the leech. It was a spray I got from the supermarket. It has citrus juice in it and that is what repells leeches away I believe. Spraying twice would make them drop their grab. You then only bleed a little. Also you should not panick having leeches on you as they are said to suck out the toxines you have in your blood. They are said to bring good to your blood. You won't die from leeches bites. The thing to avoid is to panick and attempt to pull out the leeches with your fingers. This is based on my personal experience (in south east asia). Leeches were small. Now there might be some nasty leeches in other parts of the world (south america) more difficult to handle.
If you can observe clearly , you can easily differentiate the two ends of a leech .. the mouth/head part will be thin and the back/tail part where it releases gum to stick will be thick. To remove a leech place you two thumbs on your body such that leech mouth is in between them , now start applying force with your thumbs by pressing hard into your body ... the blood pumps into leech more than required and it starts lifting its head part .. now just flick it away .. Never use does / lighter / salt / other sprays on sucking leech , these will make leech vomit blood and at times it may vomit into your body. Never flick away leech while it is sucking blood .. if its teeth get stuck into your body .. you will get infected...