Doctors at various hospitals in Kashmir have adapted traditional leech therapy for patients suffering from various ailments like surgical reattachments of fingers, toes, ears for its ability to prevent venous congestion.
Leech therapy is considered quite effective, as when blood-sucking leeches bite a person, their saliva that contains several bioactive substances, causes blood flow to increase to the damaged tissue and prevents clotting.
Once bitten, a person can bleed for hours, allowing oxygenated blood to enter the wound area until veins re-grow and regain circulation.
Hospitals in Kashmir are using the leech therapy on patients suffering from arthritis, gout, chronic vertigo and sinusitis.
"Sinusitis results in mucous collection that leads to various ailments like headache, cough and cold. In order to get rid of it, surgical methods are adopted to drain the exodus. But leech therapy is easier than draining because leeches have certain enzymes that help to liquify and dissolve the substances and also have anti-biotic, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory substances that relieve the person from sinusitis," said Dr Nasir Hakeem, program incharge of leech therapy.
The hospitals using leeches for treatment follow the traditional Unani system of medicine.
The application of medicinal leech 'Hirudo medicinalis' for clearing poison from body has been practiced for long. In fact they have been used in medicine for thousands of years and is believed to have been in fashion in Egypt around 2,500 years ago.
Leech therapy was commonly used in traditional medicine for treating localized pain.
According to medical experts, more than 100 bioactive substances are present in the saliva of a leech that goes into the body of a patient while impure blood is extracted.
Earlier, people used to practice the traditional method on roadside or near shrines. And, traditional leech workers used leaches on multiple patients, thus, increasing the risk of transferable diseases.
But to avoid transmittable diseases, hospitals have adopted the single usage of a leech during the treatment. After a leech is used on any human, it is then killed as a part of the measures to prevent it from passing the infection from one patient to another.
A growing number of patients are showing interest, as they find the treatment in hospitals effective, hygienic and clean.
"I had a lot of pimples on my face but they have reduced now after I started undergoing leech therapy. It's very safe here in the hospitals. It is a kind of therapy where leeches purify the blood and we don't need any medicines for the treatment," said Faizaan Bhat, one patient.
"The leeches are found more during winters. It is a traditional form of therapy. Earlier people used to go to places like Hazrat Bal where they used to collect leaches in a pot. But here in the hospitals, everything is more hygienic," said Ajaz Ahmed, patient.
The medicinal leeches are brown, red striped and olive coloured. The creatures have two suckers, one at each end and have three jaws.
Leech species are carnivorous and the ones, which are predatory, feed on invertebrates like worms and snails. But a few of them are blood sucking and feed on vertebrates like reptiles and mammals.
Patients who have not been cured through conventional medicine are the ones who mostly come forward for the therapy.
It costs rupees 50 per leech used for treatment apart from other charges at the hospitals in Kashmir.