THE MEDICAL USE OF LEECHES IN CONTEMPORARY SPAIN: BETWEEN SCIENCE AND TRADITION
In Spain leeches have been used both in popular and scientific medicine throughout its history. In this study we analyze the historical fluctuations of leech therapy. At the start of the 20th century it was still being used in in scientific medicine, as can be seen in the treatment administered to Germán Gamazo, a minister during the reign of Alfonso XII and the regency of Archduchess Maria Christina of Austria, during a serious illness in 1901. Leech therapy was to fall dramatically into disuse and was to survive only in folk medicine, with leeches losing their reputation as a therapeutic agent. The data obtained is the result of a systematic review of the literature and of the major databases in the fields of folklore, ethnography, social anthropology and medical anthropology. Leeches have been used in Spanish folk medicine to treat ailments and disorders in up to 11 categories of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-10), particularly in the treatment of diseases of the circulatory, respiratory and musculoskeletal systems. According to the available literature, they were part of the folk therapeutic arsenal, at least until the seventies of the last century. Our study also provides information about the medicinal use, commerce and consumption of these animals in recent years.
Key words: Medicinal leeches; folk medicine; historical review; consumption; Spain