Summer is here in all its glory, and so are those blood-thirsty little arachnids, ticks! If you are hiking through an infested area, these tiny eight-legged creatures will wait on brush, shrubs, bushes, grass, or low-growing plants and cling to your clothes as you sweep by. It then climbs upward, looking for an area of exposed skin to burrow into, and literally sucks your blood, which is used for food.
Ticks are in the same animal family as spiders, scorpions, and mites. Incredibly resilient and adaptive, they live in all 50 states, most often in brushy fields and wooded areas. These tiny animals are active in late spring, summer, and early fall, as temperatures warm, and in winter, when it is above freezing.
Ticks can be found virtually everywhere in rural America all year round, where the vast majority of leisure, adventure, and outdoor activities occur.
Why Are They a Problem?
This parasite is not only an annoyance, it is potentially dangerous. When a tick burrows into your skin and draws your blood into its body cavity, it can transfer a variety of harmful bacteria and viruses (pathogens) back to its host, similar to how a mosquito conveys malaria.
The nine species of ticks found in North America carry and transmit no less than twelve diseases that can harm you, including Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, and Pawassan Disease.
You or one of your family members are outdoors or have just returned from an outing and find a tick attached to you. Your immediate response is that the little parasite must be removed; the sooner, the better.
Wait! In your haste to remove it from your skin, don’t pinch the tick between your fingers, twisting or pulling to try to dislodge it. These actions can cause the tick’s mouth parts to break away from its body and remain in your skin. There is a safe and dependable way to remove this pesky parasite.
How to Remove a Tick
The best and safest way to remove a tick is by mechanical means, using fine-tipped tweezers or a specialized tick removal tool (see the end of this article for a list of tools.)
- Disinfect the tweezers or tick removal tool with rubbing alcohol or soap before using.
- Gently grab the tick as close to your skin as possible with the tweezers or removal tool.
- Pull upward using even and steady pressure until the tick is dislodged.
- Do not jerk, twist, or pull fast.
- If the tick breaks apart and the body separates from the mouth parts (teeth), re-grab the remaining piece attached to your skin and repeat, beginning with step 2.
After removing the tick, clean and disinfect the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, soap and water, or iodine scrub.
After removing the tick, dispose of the creature by placing in a plastic bag or vial, or wrap the little critter in tape (medical or duct tape) before putting in the garbage. Refrain from attempting to crush the tick between your fingers, which will spread its body fluids and contaminants.
Other ways people attempt to dislodge a tick include applying nail polish, petroleum jelly, insect repellent, lighter fluid, gasoline, or heat. The tick may react to these other persuasions but take more time to dislodge from your skin than if you properly pull it out with tweezers, increasing the likely hood the parasite will inject more of its body fluids into you.
These methods decrease the chance of removing the whole tick successfully and increase the possibility of infection and disease.
Monitor the Bite Area
After a couple of days, if the bite area is still red, irritated, inflamed or infected, check with your doctor for further care.
Summer is here; time to get out and enjoy some great outdoor activities. Just remember, if you get a tick embedded in your skin, you have a surefire way to safely remove it.
Videos on How to Correctly Remove a Tick
Living Ready Pocket Manual – First Aid: Fundamentals for Survival – James Hubbard M.D., “The Survival Doctor”
All images are the authors or from the CDC.