Thunder Bay·Audio

Leech sends man into anaphylactic shock

A Thunder Bay woman is warning people about bloodsucker allergies after her husband had to be airlifted to hospital from their summer cottage.

Bloodsucker allergies rare, allergy expert says

Thunder Bay resident Dave Stoot has allergies to cashews and Brazil nuts but had only had two previous reactions to bloodsuckers, his wife Geraldine said. He recently went into anaphylactic shock after finding a bloodsucker on the bottom of his foot. (Supplied)

A Thunder Bay woman is warning people about bloodsucker allergies after her husband had to be airlifted to hospital from their summer cottage.

Geraldine Stoot's husband went into anaphylactic shock after finding a leech on his foot on the August long weekend. 

Dave Stoot told his wife he was feeling queasy and was going to lie down, but he insisted he was otherwise fine, she said

“He didn't want anything to eat or drink, just maybe a cold cloth,” Stoot recalled.

“By the time I'd done all that, he wasn't talking to me.  He wasn't responding.”

EpiPen injections and allergy pills helped keep him alive while he was airlifted to the Thunder Bay hospital from the family camp at Hawkeye Lake.

Rare case

An allergy expert at the University of British Columbia said he’s never heard of anything quite like this.

“The only reports we've been able to find [are] of people who reacted to heparin, a blood-thinner, in the past,” said Donald Stark, a clinical associate professor at UBC’s Division of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.

“[They] may cross-react with the anti-coagulant that leeches use to keep the blood flowing when they bite someone.”

Stark said he's more familiar with anaphylactic reactions to aquarium fish food and even to cold water.

"The thing with allergic reactions, particularly more severe reactions, is there's almost always some previous exposure that causes the sensitivity to that, and it's not the first or the second bite usually,” he said.

"It's [the] subsequent bite that causes the problem after they've been sensitized and had the opportunity to produce an allergic antibody." 

Allergy could turn serious

Dave Stoot had reacted to leeches twice before, his wife said, but it was nothing like this.

She is now advising parents to watch for reactions in children who come in contact with bloodsuckers, because the situation could turn serious.

From now on, her husband will be more careful dipping into the water at camp, she added, joking that he’ll likely be wearing a neoprene suit that covers him “from head to toe” from now on.

"He probably won't be going in the water for a very, very long time," she said.  "And if he does it'll probably be with a pair of hip waders on."