Are There Leeches In Thailand?

credit: Yay

Swimming in the beautiful oceans, canals, or waterfalls is a favorite pass time for many tourists traveling to Thailand. What can be scary is the potential critters they might encounter while in the water. Visitors to the country might wonder if there are leeches in Thailand.

Yes, there are leeches in Thailand. These leeches can be found in the ocean, rivers, dams, canals, wet vegetation, and just about any natural water source in Thailand. There are between 700-1000 types of leeches which can be divided into four main groups, terrestrial, freshwater, marine, and leech mouth types.

Related: Are There Mosquitoes In Thailand?

Are There Leeches In Thailand?

Yes, there are leeches in Thailand. There are leeches in all the areas travelers like to visit. Thailand has gorgeous sights, and tourists can and probably will encounter leeches in any of these areas. Many areas have terrestrial leeches (land leeches) living in wet jungle areas.

Along with land leeches, you will also find freshwater and marine leeches in the water. Therefore, people must regularly check for leeches on their person when visiting the forest, parks, or swimming. It’s a fair bet that they will find leeches clinging onto them.

Leech on skin 1
Yay Leech on skin

Leeches have four eyes, ten stomachs, and 32 brains. They wait in the water or wet vegetation until they sense movement. Then, they will go towards the source of vibration, reach up, wave their heads around until they have found a place on an animal or human, and attach themselves using their teeth.

Their bite can be painful, and those affected should treat the wounds with antibacterial ointment to prevent infection. In addition, the authorities have advised people to take precautions when swimming or sightseeing in the forests or parks.

Are Leeches Dangerous?

Leeches are not dangerous and don’t usually carry diseases, but there have been cases where leeches were exposed to bacteria-ridden water, and the people they latched onto became sick.

The other concern is that when leeches bite and suck blood, they release an anticoagulant into the bloodstream. This prevents blood from clotting in the wound and keeps the wound open for hours after the leech has already fallen off.

With an open wound, there is a danger of infection. Floodwaters cause sewage waters to come to the surface, and the open wounds left by the leeches get infected.

Wound from leech
Yay Wound from leech

After a storm in 2006, people became sick, and some died after being bitten by leeches. This was due to their wounds getting infected. As a result, the Public Health Ministry warned residents of the sewage-filled flood waters rife with leeches and advised them to travel by boat.

Are Leeches A Problem In Thailand?

Leeches are a considerable problem after Thailand has floods or heavy rainstorms. During heavy rainstorms, the leeches are carried to the cities and settlements by the flood waters and attach themselves to the nearest host.

A news report mentioned one such incident that happened in a 2016 flood. The flood bombarded settlements, and the water was infested with leeches. It got so bad that people were afraid to get into the water. While leech-invested floods are a rare occurrence, it does happen.

How Can Tourists Avoid Getting Bitten By Leeches In Thailand?

While tourists can expect to encounter leeches at some point in their travels, they can take a few preventative measures to avoid getting bitten. Some of these measures include:

  • Wearing tight, long pants and long sleeve shirts,
  • Tying plastic bags over the feet so the leeches can’t get a good grip,
  • Wearing anti-leech socks,
  • Regularly spraying salt spray in on their feet, legs and arms,
  • Using insect repellent like DEET or DEPA,
  • Using lemon/eucalyptus oil or spray
Legs protected from leeches by long socks in forest
Yay Legs protected from leeches by long socks in forest

How To Remove Leeches Safely

If a person has leeches attached to them, they must safely remove them. Always ensures that the entire body and head are removed. The head is often found embedded in the skin of its host. Here are some steps to safely remove them from the body.

Step 1. Get To The The Head

To safely remove the leech, locate its mouth (attached to the skin). Then pull the skin around the mount taut to easily remove it.

Step 2. Get The Leech To Let Go

Slide a fingernail, piece of paper, or credit card between the mouth and the skin to detach the leech from the skin.

Step 3. Get Rid Of The Leech

Lastly, flick the wormy bloodsucker as far away as possible before it can reattach itself to its host’s skin.

Step 4. Clean The Wound

This step is essential as cleaning the wound helps prevent bacteria from entering the wound and causing it to get infected. First, clean the wound with rubbing alcohol or a first aid cleaner. Then use a sterile bandage to cover the injury.

Initially, the wound will keep bleeding as the anticoagulant in the leeches saliva will keep the blood from clotting. However, it can take hours for the bleeding to stop, so change the bandages every hour and keep the wound clean.

To remove leeches from hard-to-reach areas like the ear canal, mouth or nose, use rubbing alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Keep the liquid on the leech for 30 seconds at a time until it falls off. If the leech is attached to the eye or internal areas, it is best to seek medical help as it may need to be surgically removed.

What Not To Do To Remove A Leech

When removing a leech, never use any of the following methods, or the leech will vomit blood into the wound, and that can lead to a bacterial infection that can be very dangerous.

  • Never try to pull the critter off,
  • Never put salt on it,
  • Never use shampoo to remove it,
  • Never use fire to remove them,
  • Never use bug repellent to remove them (they work better at preventing them from biting than removal).

Leeches Are Not All Bad

It is very frustrating to encounter and subsequently remove these bloodsuckers when exploring Thailand, but they also have their benefits. Leeches have been used in the old world and modern medicine for years. They are used to revive delicate arteries and to keep the blood flowing in areas with limited circulation.

Still, when visiting Thailand, tourists should follow all the guidelines on leeches to keep them from making anyone their next meal ticket.