Medicinal leeches on water gel at leech farm.

Medicinal leeches on water gel at leech farm.

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Credit: JAMES KING-HOLMES/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY

Caption: Leeches. Medicinal leeches, Hirudo medicinalis, in water gel, ready for despatch from a leech farm. Historically leeches were used to treat many illnesses which were ascribed to excess blood. The saliva of leeches contains hirudin, which prevents blood clotting while they feed, and for some hours afterwards. They are therefore useful in draining or dissolving haematomas, and as a source of the anti-coagulant hirudin. They are also used in graft surgery to facilitate reconnection of blood vessels in, for example, a re-attached severed finger. As they feed they draw blood into the tissue preventing gangrene while the body re- establishes circulation in the graft.

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Keywords: animal, blood vessels, graft, haematoma, hirudinea, hirudo medicinalis, invertebrate, invertebrates, leech, leech treatment, medicinal leech, nature, wildlife, zoology

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