How To Deal With Leeches On A Trek

How many of you, like me, are wondering “What the heck am I doing in office in this beautiful weather? How about being in the lap of Ghats trekking, camping under mild drizzles and sipping a mug of hot tea?”  But wait. Along with the beautiful weather (or because of it), you know you’re going to have some unavoidable blood-sucking company on the trek!  Yes, I’m talking about leeches.

The forest trails of the Kopatty trek in Coorg are infested with leeches

As much as it’s the best time to trek, it is also the peak breeding season for the leeches. Ignoring them is a task, especially when they are in large numbers and ravenously hungry for you (whether you’re O+, A+ or AB-)!

But that shouldn’t stop any of you from trekking. After all, to learn about the leeches and tackle them is also an experience in itself. With all the blood on your socks and pants, you’ll definitely have stories to tell! So let me start by first giving you some gyaan about these little creepy crawlies!

Leeches belong to the phylum “Annelida”. And historically, leeches have been used for removing unwanted blood from patients’ wounds and in surgeries such as re-attachment of body parts.

What happens when a leech bites you?

A lot of you may know that when a leech bites you, you don’t feel a thing. This is because they insert an anesthetic into your blood. After that, they insert an anti-coagulant to stop your blood from clotting. This allows the leech to suck freely until it gets plump and drops off automatically.

How do you handle a leech?

When you see a leech on yourself, there’s no need to panic. Use your fingers to pick them or just flick them away. The bitten spot may bleed for sometime, thanks to the leech’s anticoagulant, but that will automatically stop after a few minutes.

Aftercare

Leech bites tend to get really itchy when they’re healing. You’ll notice this even three or four days after being bitten. Try not to scratch them, as this may delay the healing process and it will leave a scar. Apply an anti-irritant such as a caladryl lotion or coconut oil. If the itching is severe, you could consider mild antihistamine drugs (anti-allergic).

Prevention:

Several preventive methods can be adopted if you decide on trekking with the leeches. As suggested by local people, you can try the following:

1) Apply a mixture of tobacco + castor oil on your exposed body parts

2) Lemon and salt (this is more of a quick fix and doesn’t last long. You may keep it in handy while you are camping at the tent)

3) Dettol – apply a generous amount of dettol on your feet and over your socks (yes!) and on the other exposed body parts. The phenol derivative is supposedly said to drive the leeches away

4) Always ask the locals – Local villagers working day in n out in the forests come up with most innovative leech-proof ideas. Feel free to ask, they will be happily to help.

More importantly, make sure you don’t take leeches into your tent with you at night. That will be a nightmare. So make sure you check for leeches inside your shoes, socks, on your feet and legs. Check under your watch strap and inside undergarments. Plug cotton into your ears before you sleep in the tent. Keep a torch handy to do a re-check inside the tent. Keep some leafs to pick them and throw away if you spot them inside your tent.

Now that you have enough information about handling leeches, nothing should stop you from venturing into the hills in the lovely monsoons. You definitely don’t want to miss out on the sheer green beauty of the mountains, not to mention, the gurgling streams and pretty waterfalls!

Here are some lovely treks you can do in Karnataka and Maharastra.

Meanwhile, if you have some effective ways of dealing with leeches, put them down in the comments below!

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Kavitha

Kavitha

Kavitha is a nature lover, traveler, trekker, rock climber, marathoner and an engineer – all rolled into one. When the technical domains of engineering couldn’t hold Kavitha’s interest, she joined the Hiking Club to share her zest for the wild with the younger generation.

6 thoughts on “How To Deal With Leeches On A Trek

  1. Odomos is a great solution for driving away the leeches..I have a tried a tested a lot..put odomos on shoes and socks as well as on the pants and none of them will come nearby… I never got leach bite by this method …

  2. Odomos works wonders. It is as effective in killing a leech as salt. Apply generously all over your body to stay leech free!

  3. I was trekking in Nepal through the Annapurna Base Camp route during the September monsoon season back in 2015. Had our heads pointed looking down 90% of the time looking out for leeches trying to score a quick one my succulent legs rather than enjoying the beautiful himalayan scenery. I am usually not overly concern with insects, but leeches is a whole new level disgusting!

    It was 2 days of blood sucking horror until I was fortunate enough to have a Korean couple join our trekking after we stopped by a teahouse. The guy had this special gel like repellent called Leech hound. Some sort of leech repellent. He only had enough for 1 more application on the shoes for me and my fiancé. It was a God sent miracle! All the leeches couldn’t make their way past a barrier layer where the gel was applied. Such relieve! Gosh the Himalayas is breathtaking.

    I wasn’t able to find this gel for sale anywhere in the local stores until about half a year later on ebay. For those who plan to go on an adventure in mountainous Nepal or humid Borneo rainforest, do yourself a favor and standby a bottle of insect repellent or simply this:
    https://www.ebay.com/itm/Leech-Hound-Leech-Repelling-Barrier/263810846962?hash=item3d6c5a10f2%3Ag%3AP3MAAOSwYXBbR0JN&_sacat=0&_nkw=leech+hound&_from=R40&rt=nc&_trksid=m570.l1313

    Hope this helps. Have a great adventure ahead!

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