According to a survey from the National Pest Management Association (NPMA), the majority of Americans are taking precautions to protect themselves from ticks, but they are misinformed in correct tick removal methods. Serious tick-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, babesiosis, and the recently discovered Heartland Virus are transmitted to humans when ticks latch on and bite, seeking a blood meal. Not surprisingly, this occurs most often during outdoor activities. However, to be able to transfer certain infections and cause disease, the tick needs to be attached for a prolonged time. For instance, a tick typically needs to be attached for at least 24-48 hours for transmission to occur. The good news is that prompt removal of the tick often blocks the transmission of infection. The bad news is that improper tick removal may increase the chances of infection and disease.
Those spending time outdoors during the summer months should keep in mind this advice to prevent the spread of these dangerous diseases and to be aware of proper tick removal techniques.
- use fine-tipped tweezers
- pull steadily away from skin with even pressure
- clean the bite area with soap and water
- properly dispose of the tick
- twist as you pull
- use chemicals
- attempt to squish the tick
The recommended tool to remove a tick is a set of fine-tipped tweezers. They allow you to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible, rather than in the middle of the tick’s body, so the entire tick is removed. Avoid crushing the tick’s body which risks pulling the head from the body of the tick. It is never recommended to remove a tick with your hands, as there is a chance of infection if secretions from an infected tick come into contact with the eyes or face.
The most important part of the process is making sure the entire tick is removed from the skin. Keep in mind that the tick is biting the skin, so pulling it away with steady, even pressure helps ensure that the tick releases its bite. Pulling too quickly or jerking the tick could lead to its head or parts of its mouth remaining in the skin, and this increases the likelihood of infection.
Once the tick is removed, it is best to clean the bite area with soap and water to remove any residue that may be left behind. If the tick is removed cleanly and the bite area looks normal, there should be no need to call a doctor. If a rash, headaches, fever or pain develops, consult a doctor immediately.
A tick that has been removed from a person or a pet is still alive and needs to be properly disposed of so it does not latch on to another resident in the house. Once removed, ticks should be flushed down a toilet or wrapped tightly in tissue before disposing in a closed receptacle.
Be sure to remove the tick with steady, even pressure. Twisting or jerking the tick away from the bite area increases the likelihood that its head or parts of its mouth could remain imbedded in the skin. This can lead to an infection of the bite area.
While there are other known home remedies for tick removal, only removal with fine-tipped tweezers is recommended. Using household chemicals, oils, hot matches or concoctions can damage or burn your skin and irritate the bite area, as well as increase the risk of leaving the head or mouth parts of the tick behind. Proper removal with fine-tipped tweezers is the only reliable way to ensure that the entire tick is removed safely from the skin.
When removing a tick, be sure not to squeeze its body or squish it in any way. Position the tweezers as close to the skin as possible to remove the tick by its head. Squishing the tick while it is still attached could result in the tick’s blood spreading into the bite and increasing the possibility of infection or disease. Additionally, crushing the body of the tick could increase the risk of pulling the head from the body of the tick, both contaminating the wound and leaving part of the tick embedded in your skin.
While it is key to find and remove ticks in a timely fashion, a tick generally needs to remain attached to the skin for a prolonged time to spread infection or disease – as much as 24-48 hours. So, rather than worrying about how quickly you can get rid of the tick, it is best to focus on ensuring that you can calmly and appropriately remove it from the skin. Also, even in highly endemic (high risk) areas, most individual ticks actually do not carry disease.
Once the tick is removed, there is no need to call a doctor unless you develop the telltale “bull’s-eye” pattern surrounding the bite area which is indicator of Lyme disease, or if you begin to develop a rash, pain, headaches or fever after removing the tick.
Awareness of tick-borne illnesses has increased in recent years, but education has been slow to follow. In the NPMA’s new survey, 60 percent of respondents were using improper methods to remove a tick from themselves, their family members or their pets. The transmission of tick-borne disease can be curbed with proper prevention and detection techniques, and proper removal of a tick that is already latched is key to reducing the risk of disease or infection.
Proper removal is not difficult, but remember not to panic when you see a tick. Avoid instinctually grabbing at it or trying some home remedies such as clear nail polish. A calm approach using simple tweezers, followed by cleaning the area with soap and water, is just what the doctor ordered.