How to remove a tick (and prevent Lyme Disease)

I recently got a phone call from someone who thought she had a tick on her, so I thought it might be useful to discuss the right–and the wrong–way to remove a tick. If you don’t take the tick off correctly, it won’t let go. It will just keep on cheerfully sucking your blood and pumping pathogens into you!

First, DO NOT do any of these things to the tick:

  • Put vasoline on it
  • Put fingernail polish over it
  • Put Mineral Oil on it
  • Drench it with Whiskey, Wine, or other alcoholic beverages.
  • Stick a lit match on it (or a recently extinguished match)
  • Especially do not combine the above flammable materials with the match treatment! :)

Not only will this not effectively remove the tick, but it may cause the tick to barf up its gut contents into your wound. Ew.

You should remove the tick with tweezers. End of story.remove a tick

Here’s the process:

  1. Grasp the tick as close to your skin as possible with tweezers. Don’t squeeze the body! You risk compressing the guts and expelling bacteria through the tick’s mouth into your body.
  2. Pull the tick out straight with a slow, steady motion. Don’t twist–this again can compress the guts.
  3. Save the tick, if you live in an area with tick borne-disease.

Ok, the tick’s off of you. But what should you be looking out for if you fear Lyme Disease?

First, make a guess what sort of tick you have. The tick that carries Lyme is a tiny little bastard–this photo will give you a sense of the size.

The first symptom of Lyme is a rash, with the fancy name of Erythema Migrans. It’s fairly distinctive, and sometimes develops into a “bulls-eye” rash. Seek medical attention ASAP if you develop a red rash around your bite!

The best thing for you to do is to prevent the problem in the first place by wearing a repellent. DEET containing materials are the only reliable products for tick repellancy right now. You can also get some nifty clothes that have repellent right in the fabric.

Burn all the citronella candles you want–you’ll just get the ticks in the mood. (Playing some Barry White might also be helpful.)

If you don’t want to wear repellent, how about looking at the CDC list of tick-borne diseases for some motivation?

9 thoughts on “How to remove a tick (and prevent Lyme Disease)

  1. Ugh. Ticks. They’re everywhere here. I had some on my pet turtle once, my sister works for the Department of Reclaimation and takes her dog with her on her salt cedar extermination projects… they both come back with ticks. I had a tick once, used the tweezers but didn’t think to save the little guy.

    My girlfriend is allergic to repellant, too, so I try to keep her out of the trees.

  2. The saving is mostly so you can determine if you need to freak out or not–the general consensus is that trying to analyze the tick’s gut contents to see what it’s carrying isn’t useful.

  3. oh my gosh, i did all that stuff wrong. got the rash. calling the doc. thanks for the very good info and links. pics are lovely. you rock!

  4. 1. The nasty little things are in a lot of places they didn’t used to be. Our dogs have brought them in from our yard — no, we don’t live in a forest near deer and forest mice. Watch for them. We have pulled them off of our indoor-only cats.

    2. Pay special attention to the rash stuff. I first heard of the stuff when I started hiking in the east, years ago. Now we’re west of the Mississippi (in Texas). When our oldest son came down with the rash (12 or 13 years ago, now) the physician told us on the phone not to worry about Lyme disease. I asked him to check his book to see if there was anything in there about a bull’s eye pattern, which was what we we’re seeing. He assured me that we didn’t have the proper ticks, and there was no Lyme disease in our area. I insisted he look at the book. He called about 10 minutes later and told us to hustle in. Full antibiotic treatment. We think it worked. The physician asked every question he could to be certain we got the tick out of state. No luck. Two weeks later I was in the office of my physician, and a woman was in the waiting room with the same bull’s eye. I mentioned Lyme disease, she looked puzzled. I told the physician of our experience a couple of weeks earlier; the woman had even kept the tick. Don’t assume your physician treks the wild like you do.

    3. Another evolution story? Tale I’ve heard is that the mice that spread the tick have exploded because there are so many acorns for them to eat, now that the Passenger Pigeon is extinct. Prior to their extinction, the mice were limited by food supply.

    4. We got a tick remover from REI, another from Campmoor — they have a magnifying lens and they work like champs.

  5. I recently went on a walking holiday in Sweden and over there they have a serious tick problem. If you go into a chemist over there, you can get a tick remover called the Trix.

    The Trix device was so easy to use and allowed me to remove 2 ticks whole. The tool was rather like a pen and had a lasso that extended from its tip when the button was pressed.

    I would give this method of removal 5 stars!

    This is the website that is printed on it http://www.tickremover.com if you look on their site, they have distributors in most countries.

  6. Hello, I am a little confused about Lyme Tick Disease. We had our Chessadore (1/2 chocolate lab & 1/2 chesapeake retriever) puppy vaccinated for Lyme disease and
    were using frontline too. But after a day on the outer beach (we live on the cape) the “Lakota” starting limping on his front leg, we took that in stride as he was very active on the beach. The next day though he could not even stand up, I had to carry him from the upstairs bedroom to the truck to bring him to the vet. Anyway he had lyme disease and is
    being treated for it now. He seems to be fine. We live in the woods and the vet says he will most likely get the disease again, the vet bill was over $300. Do you know of any
    preventive measures for preventing this disease to occur again and how
    to protect ourselves? Looking forward to your comments.
    Jim

  7. Interesting about that Swedish tick remover. A few years ago I helped an Internet bicycle touring friend from Sweden with some internet ad copy for a keychain tick remover that his wife was going to sell in the Baltics and Russia. They needed help with an English version that would be suitable for audiences that did not have English as a first language. He did not like my initial attempts to make it sound like a North American ad, which led to some interesting discussions about language.

    Ah, I’ve found it: Tick2

    I think he offered to send me a few but I didn’t take him up on it. It looks like the device would be worth a try, though. (I got no compensation for it other than the fun of helping someone out.)

  8. Jim–the history of lyme vaccines is mixed, at best. Most of them have only a 20-50% effectiveness rate. There is a new version that works better, but it’s not on the market yet.

    The only prevention is to check and remove ticks daily. Frontline will not kill the ticks quickly enough to prevent transmission.

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