How to Remove a Leech

How to Remove a Leech

An attached leech. Photo by Maderibeyza / Wikimedia Commons

Borneo’s rainforests are full of wild and fascinating animals. One of those habitants with a bad reputation are leeches, waiting in the moist and dark undergrowth for the next blood donor. If you are lucky enough to pick up a slimy little hitchhiker, do not just pull it off!

Removing leeches should be done correctly to avoid possible complications.

Borneo Leeches

At least nine species of leeches have been found on Borneo. Leeches mostly prefer muddy waters, damp forests, lowlands and coastal areas where the water buffaloes hang out. Many of the Borneo national parks have leech problems.  We all probably admit that leeches are creepy little creatures, but did you now that each leech has 32 brains and a few sets of eyes?

Leeches do not have to be fed often, but when they find their victim, they take in as much as they can. Imagine that five large leeches can drain the blood of a small animal in half an hour!

Don’t panic just yet, you are not a small animal and the loss of blood to humans is not significant. Leech bites do not hurt since a small amount of anaesthetic is injected into victims first.

The best way to remove leeches is to not get them attached in the first place!

Protect Yourself from Leeches in Borneo’s Rainforests

  • Wear long pants and squeeze them into the socks or purchase leech proof socks if you are serious about trekking in Borneo.
  • Spray insect repellent onto your clothes and shoes before hiking.
  • In a pinch, putting some tobacco into your socks has been known to repel leeches.
  • Rub detergent soap into your socks and trousers before trekking.
  • Wear closed shoes, not sandals.

How to Remove a Leech Safely

In case the leech has already got you, do not pull it out. The commonly used techniques of burning, salting and squeezing result in the leech vomiting harmful bacteria back into your system.

Leeches fall out on their own once full. If you can continue hiking with the thought of a small Dracula hanging off your body do so. It will not take longer than 20 minutes for the leech to give up and remove itself safely.

If you wish to remove a leech before it is full, here are some safe tips:

Removing Leeches

  1. Locate the head with a sucker attached to the wound. It will be the narrow end of leech’s body.
  2. Slide a sharp object or your fingernail under the sucker. Be quick, so the leech will not have time to vomit the blood back into your wound.
  3. Slide the body off with the same object or your fingernail.
  4. Quickly flick the leech away before it bites you again and reattaches!
  5. Treat the wound with wipes or soap and water; use the bandage to stop bleeding. Extra bleeding is normal because there are anti-clotting enzymes in the leech’s mouth.

If you are being careful while removing leeches, the risk of an infection is minimal. If rash, fever, dizziness and sweating occurs, it might be an allergic reaction to the bite. Take antihistamines and get back to civilization where medical help is close by.

If you somehow get a leech into your mouth or throat – and some unlucky people do while swimming – you’ve got a good excuse for a drink! Yes, seriously. Try to find the strongest alcoholic drink possible and gargle it. Not so easy given that bars are hard to find in the Borneo rainforests…maybe carrying a small preventive bottle in your backpack is a good idea after all!

Meet the Author:

Alexandra Krajanova comes from Piestany, Slovakia, and has lived in Ireland for the last six years. She has been around the world, but fell in love with Borneo and Southeast Asia.

Alex travels full-time, usually in search of spicy food, white sand, and the next great adventure.