Leeches are back and helping doctors treat burns victims, re-attach body parts and reduce the pain of osteoarthritis, writes Sarah Lonsdale
As assistant manager at Britain’s only leech farm, Carl Peters finds that getting bitten is an occupational hazard. Each year, he raises thousands of the two-inch long, brownish-black invertebrates and has been bitten around two dozen times, usually while cleaning out their tanks.
But Peters suffers so that NHS patients may benefit: every year, hospitals buy some 12,000 to 15,000 leeches from his farm, at £9.95 each. Long valued in western medicine, though neglected for the past century, they are used in burns and plastics units for their anti-coagulant and blood-draining properties.
The leech bite creates a puncture wound that bleeds for hours, while the leech’s saliva contains substances that anaesthetise the wound area, dilate the blood vessels to increase blood flow and prevent the blood from clotting. More recently, leeches have been useful in reducing the painful inflammation of osteoarthritis.
Peters now has individuals ordering leeches directly from him, after recommendations from their GPs.