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Improvement of patient care through hirudotherapy and the management of leeches from their reception to their disposal in France


Objective Medicinal leech therapy — known as hirudotherapy (HT) — is an empirical medical technique that has become popular again in reconstructive surgery. However, at each step of leech management there are risks for blood contamination of the caregivers and severe infections for patients. This reduces the success of the treatment. The aim of this study was to improve the management of leeches from ordering to disposal to improve patient care.

Methods First, a review of the literature was performed. Second, we conducted a retrospective study of patients’ antibiotic prophylaxis from January 2018 to December 2019. The data we collected were patient characteristics, the specific care unit at the hospital, indication, contra-indication, posology, duration of HT, number of leeches delivered, antibiotic prophylaxis prescribed and microbial organism, if identified. Third, an interdisciplinary meeting was organised to review the entire leech circuit: ordering, maintenance, prescription, dispensing, application and disposal.

Results At the end of the literature review, six articles based on practices implemented in France were selected for inclusion. These articles discussed antibiotic prophylaxis, iron supplementation, and leech storage, application and disposal. On the retrospective study performed, antibiotic prophylaxis for HT was performed for 60% (30/50) of patients, 77% (23/30) of the prescriptions followed the recommendations for antibiotic prophylaxis, and 20 patients did not receive antibiotic prophylaxis. The interdisciplinary meeting made it possible to define a collegially validated protocol, containing a computerised antibiotic prophylaxis prescription, including per os ciprofloxacin antibiotic prophylaxis, intravenous iron supplementation and biological monitoring. A leech application protocol was created, and the method of leech disposal was revised.

Conclusion Despite the absence of clear guidelines and heterogeneous practices, this study reveals the importance of a standard procedure including leech management practices before use, antibiotic prophylaxis and application and disposal guides. The interdisciplinary protocol allows improved patient care management and makes leech management safer for caregivers.

  • education, pharmacy
  • quality assurance, health care
  • wound healing
  • safety
  • microbiology

Data availability statement

No data are available.

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