It’s something every first-time hiker in Khao Sok—or any tropical forest—worries about.  Imagine you’re walking down an amazing trail through the heart of the jungle; colorful butterflies leisurely floating about the trail, beautiful gibbon songs echoing in the distance, and turquoise water rolling by.  Then, you look down to see a slimy black critter taking your blood without permission!

Here you’ll learn what to do if you get a leech bite, what to do after a bite, and what to do to minimize the chances of getting bitten.

What do you do?

The first step is to relax!  Leeches in Khao Sok don’t carry any diseases and their bites won’t harm you.  Next, see if the leech has actually latched on.  The easiest indicator is if its body is uniformly thin (as in picture below), or if it’s beginning to get fat on one end.  If it’s uniformly thin, go ahead and pick—or flick—the leech off.  According to our guides, it’s best to remove the skinny end first by pressing firmly and rolling it off to the side. If it’s already starting to get fat, DO NOT remove it.  It may actually cause you to bleed more. You can let it get what it came for and fall off on its own.

Alternately, you can sprinkle salt, try to burn it off with a lighter, or spray insect repellent on it.  A potential problem with these methods is that it may cause the leech to spit everything back out before it falls off and create a chance of the bite getting infected.  Also, you may end up getting salt on the bite (painful) burning yourself (also painful) or getting insect spray in your cut (insect spray is poison).

After the Bite

The best way to cover the wound and quickly stop any bleeding (after a light flushing or cleaning) is to apply loose tobacco over it and make sure it sticks.  You can also place a bandage or tape above the tobacco to keep it in place.  The tobacco is incredibly absorbent and will minimize the bleeding.  The tobacco can be removed after an hour or so once scabbing has started.  Make sure to remove carefully so as not to completely reopen the wound.

Minimize the Chances

Completely eliminating the possibility of getting a leech bite in the rainy season is nearly impossible.  However, we now offer leech socks at Our Jungle House, which can be very helpful in persuading leeches that the guy or girl behind you might be a better target!  Tucking your shirt into your pants also creates another physical barrier that acts as a pretty good deterrent from keeping them away. You can do a lot to reduce your chances, but even if they come for you, you’ll know just what to do.

Nick Grady-Grot
Nick Grady-Grot Nick Grady-Grot has been in Thailand since 2013 working on conservation and sustainable development projects at OJH.