With an ick-factor that’s off the charts, Northern Beaches locals have reported an invasion of the blood-sucking worms not only in creeks and bushlands but in their backyards and homes. But do not reach for the salt!
The recent downpours and humid weather in Sydney have turned our suburban streets into an oasis for leeches with 100s of members of the community reporting finding the little suckers attached. One alarming post in the Northern Beaches Living Facebook Group even reported one local had been hospitalised as the result of a leech (Glynn Atersall, we hope you’re recovering well!)
For those who have been fortunate not to have made their acquaintance, leeches are parasitic worms that feed by sucking blood from animals, such as fish, frogs, birds, and humans. They vary in size from a few millimetres to up to 20 inches long and can ingest up to ten times their body weight in blood.
Most leech bites are harmless and lead to itching at the affected site, as well as purpura (blood spots). In some circumstances, the bite can cause extended bleeding (even after the leach is removed). This is a result of the leech’s saliva interfering with the blood’s normal clotting. In rare cases, leech bites can lead to an allergic reaction.
To Pull or Not to Pull?
There’s some debate around the best way to disengage a leech once attached. Historically pouring salt on a leech or using the heat from a lighter or match was said to be the best way to remove them. Current health advice from Health Line advises using one hand to gently pull under the leech until it’s taut. Next, slide a fingernail, piece of paper or credit card underneath the mouth to separate it from the skin and flick the leech away. Avoid infection by cleaning the wound with rubbing alcohol or a first-aid cleanser and bandaging it to cover the bleeding.
If you have trouble removing the leech, and can stand the ick factor, it should naturally fall off in about 30-45 minutes. Removing the leech by salting, fire, shampoo, bug repellent or by pulling the leech, should be avoided as these methods will increase your risk of infection. In the case of infection, indicated by fever, pain, redness or discharge from the wound, seek medical attention.
Local resident, Gill Attersall reported in the Northern Beaches Living Facebook community that her husband has been in the “Beaches Hospital for four days on I.V. Antibiotics with no improvement due to the bacteria leeches can pump into you.”
The best way to avoid leeches is to wear anti-leech protective socks. A salt spray, insect repellent, timur oil and lemon-eucalyptus oil can also be used as protection.
Be sure to also frequently check your pets, as they are prone to leeches.
“Dog owners in the area, be aware,” Ron Kovaks reports in the Northern Beaches Living Facebook group. “There seems to be some leeches about. First time I have ever seen one here but after the rain and only having a dog here for 5 (months) maybe I just haven’t noticed them. We found the culprit after he dropped off and then noticed the dog’s paw bleeding so be careful.”