Elimination of symbiotic Aeromonas spp. from the intestinal tract of the medicinal leech, Hirudo medicinalis, using ciprofloxacin feeding

K. Y. Mumcuoglu*, L. Huberman, R. Cohen, V. Temper, A. Adler, R. Galun, C. Block

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The use of the medicinal leech (Hirudo medicinalis) in promoting venous drainage in tissues whose vitality is threatened by venous congestion and obstruction, especially in plastic and reconstructive surgery, has been complicated by infections caused by Aeromonas spp. These are leech endosymbionts for which patients undergoing hirudotherapy frequently receive systemic chemoprophylaxis. In order to evaluate the possibility of rendering leeches safe for use on patients, H. medicinalis were fed artificially with a 2 g/L arginine solution (used as a phagostimulant) supplemented with ciprofloxacin (100 mg/L). Aeromonads were detected in 57 out of 80 control leeches (71.3%), but in none of the 56 leeches treated with ciprofloxacin (p <0.001). Treated leeches survived for up to 4 months. Tested weekly, 61% of these leeches took human blood for at least 4 weeks after treatment and all remained negative for aeromonads. All water samples in which leeches were kept before treatment were contaminated with Aeromonas spp.; none were detected in any of the NaCl/arginine solutions with which treated animals were fed. Molecular characterization of two phenotypically distinct isolates using gyrB sequencing showed that one clustered tightly with A. veronii and the other was closely related to A. media. Other environmental bacteria and fungi were isolated from 26.5% of treated leeches that had taken a blood meal 1-4 weeks after treatment. Ciprofloxacin reduced the number of leech-associated aeromonads to undetectable levels for extended periods. Most treated leeches were ready to take a blood meal after treatment, suggesting the possibility of using ciprofloxacin-treated leeches instead of chemoprophylaxis in patients undergoing hirudotherapy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)563-567
Number of pages5
JournalClinical Microbiology and Infection
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Aeromonas
  • Artificial feeding
  • Hirudo medicinalis
  • Medicinal leech
  • Symbiont


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