Ancient Leech Therapy Make a Modern Comeback in Kashmir

by VR Sreeraman on Aug 8 2007 4:26 PM

Ancient Leech Therapy Make a Modern Comeback in Kashmir
The ancient physician's art of using leeches has made a modern comeback, as worms are known to help healers do everything, from curing blood pressure to gout.
Abdul Wahaab, a healer, sits outside the Hazratbal Shrine on Fridays and treats people with leeches.

“We get leeches from outside and keep them in clay pots, wash and rinse them many times,” says Wahaab.

Wahaab has no medical education and little formal education.

"Leech therapy is not new. It is an ancient and most reliable therapy with no side effects, and the Muslim holy book also makes a clear reference to it,” he said.

Using leeches to draw blood, like the use of maggots to clean out infected flesh, has made a comeback. It heels faster than the normal treatment and also saves from the side effects of the medicines used to cure these ailments.

Leech therapy is effective in surgical reattachments of fingers, toes, ears for its ability to prevent venous congestion.

Though medical practitioners agree on the effectiveness and medicinal values of leeches, they say the therapy should be conducted under medical supervision.

"We can use leeches, but we have to see the size of the injury. Accordingly, we have to use the leech. We use the leech because after the leech is removed, wound can bleed continuously for more than six hours. So, we have to take proper care of the wound after the leech is removed. And leeches are to be removed under medical supervision," said Yasmeen Jaan, a dietician.

Assadullah Khan, who was injured in a car accident, approached a hakeem (local medical practitioner) after he was not satisfied with the results provided by allopathic doctors.

“Doctors plastered my leg. But after 15 days, when I went back, they said that it has not heeled yet, and we will operate it. I then came to this hakeem and he started leech therapy on me. I am getting better now. I can even walk also with support,” said Khan.

The application of medicinal leech 'Hirudo medicinalis' for clearing poison from body has been practiced for long. The medicinal leeches are brown, red striped and olive coloured. The creatures have two suckers, one at each end and have three jaws.

"Leech is applied on the wound, on any other kind of swelling and on the cuts of body. The insect sucks the blood from that part," said Gulam Rasool, a patient. Leech species are carnivorous and the ones, which are predatory, feed on invertebrates like worm and snails. But a few of them are blood sucking and feed on vertebrates like reptiles, mammals including human beings.

Leeches remove blood from their host, and they release pain-killing and blood-thinning substances with their saliva. Leech saliva contains several bioactive substances, including anti-coagulants, vaso-dilators, and anaesthetics.

This therapy in valley is been done since thousands of years. Last year, the Union Health Ministry decided to recognise leech therapy for a range of diseases.

Clinical trials were conducted at the Unani Research Institute in Srinagar, in which four leeches were placed under the ears of 25 patients suffering from hypertension and their blood pressure came down in all cases.

Leech therapy has a long history. Records indicate that Egyptians used leech therapy 3,500 years ago. Leech treatments were very popular during the middle ages. Again, leech therapy became was commonly practiced in the 1800's by American physicians treating a variety of diseases.

In the 1980, medicinal leech therapy got a big boost by plastic surgeons who used leeches to relieve venous congestion, especially in transplant surgery.


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