Aeromonas hydrophila Infections Following Use of Medicinal Leeches in Replantation and Flap Surgery

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Aeromonas hydrophila infections are a recognized complication of postoperative leech application, and can occur with measurable frequency in populations of patients treated with leeches. We review 11 previously reported leech-related Aeromonas infections and analyze seven unreported cases. These infections range from minor wound complications to extensive tissue loss and sepsis. Often, these infections followed leech application to tissue with questionable arterial perfusion. Onset of clinical infection in these patients ranged from within 24 hours of leech application to 10 days or more after leech application. Late infections may represent bacterial invasion from colonized necrotic tissue. Based on these observations, we recommend that leech applications be restricted to tissue with arterial perfusion to minimize contamination of necrotic tissue. We also recommend that patients treated with leeches receive antibiotics effective against Aeromonas hydrophila before leech application. Patients treated with leeches and discharged with eschars or open wounds might benefit from oral antibiotic therapy until wound closure. These precautions may minimize or eliminate this complication of leech use.

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