Loretta, I’m so glad you posted about leeches! (and Jo, loved your comment on same, with a morph into the use of maggots.) <g> The use of leeches for bloodletting goes back at least 3,000 years. Leeching originated in the Far East, and was introduced to Europe by traders who picked up the custom during their travels. By the Regency, it was used widely throughout England and Europe.
Leeching worked well for a number of reasons: it reduced fluid accumulation in congestive heart failure, relieved the pain of angina, lowered blood pressure, and reduced or eliminated fever. Sometimes patients were over-bled to put them into a faint or semi-faint condition, making them unconscious during the most uncomfortable part of their illness or injury. The leech secretes a natural anesthetic in its saliva. In addition to the anesthetic, a leech’s saliva releases a powerful antibiotic. The saliva also contains an anticoagulant.
Canadian physiologist Norman Kasting’s research shows that hemorrhage and dehydration stimulate the release of vasopresin, a hormone. Vasopresin reduces or eliminates fever. Loss of blood lowers a body’s iron. Many kinds of fever-related bacteria need iron to survive and multiply, and by reducing iron, the bacteria are starved. Additionally, loss of blood stimulates the pituitary gland to release several hormones, one of them being vasopresin. This release of hormones activates the body’s immune response.
To apply a leech, the physician washed the patient’s skin with hot water, rubbing hard enough to make it red. Sometimes sugared milk was dabbed on the skin to entice the leech. The hungry leech was then placed in a stemmed wineglass or a cupping glass which was inverted onto the patient’s skin The glass remained in place until the leech had attached itself and begun feeding.
As gross as the thought of a leech is, the medical benefits cannot be denied!
Sherrie Holmes, thoroughly enjoying the discussion on bad book covers