Using leeches for medical purposes dates back to medieval times, when they were used to treat obesity and gout. But today, St. Alexius Hospital is using the slimy creatures for different reasons. They're squirmy and slimy, but surprisingly, leeches are being used to help those who have had a traumatic injury.
Meet Squirmin' Herman. While the sight of these worms may make many people feel queasy, St. Alexius is actually using them to treat some of their patients.
"Probably, most commonly, any time there's been a trauma to the body and an amputation has occurred, we use it to reattach extremities, such as fingers or other body parts, such as ears," says clinical pharmacist Carrie Sorenson.
Since leeches contain a natural blood thinner, they prevent the blood around the wound from clotting, which ultimately allows for easier reattachment of an extremity.
"They'll suck typically, for about 25 minutes, until they're full, which is typically about five mils, or one teaspoon of blood," says Sorenson.
Because leeches contain a bacteria inside of them, patients who opt for the therapy are put at a slight risk of infection.
"Most of these patients, we do put on prophylactic antibiotics while they're receiving leech therapy. And typically, this course of therapy only goes for about five days," says Sorenson.
The hospital doesn't use leech therapy too often, because doctors don't see a lot of patients who have lost a limb where reattachment is a possibility.
"Recently, we had two patients running concurrently on leech therapy, but we'll go a number of months without anybody on leech therapy," says Sorenson.
It's an unusual therapy that's one of a kind. It may be gross, but it's a treatment that could make severing your finger suck a little less.
Leeches can't be used on just any patient. They must be prescribed by a doctor and distributed by a pharmacist.