There’s a moment of horror when you discover a tick has sunk its bloodsucking bits into you, followed by the immediate need to get it out. Pronto. Here’s how.
Anatomy of a Bite
How did it come to this? Your role as a food source began when a tick found purchase on your skin or clothes, evaded early detection, and searched for a desirable spot to bite. The tick prefers warm, moist sites: Armpits, hairline, and areas below the belt are common locations, although it can chomp you just about anywhere. To attach itself and begin feeding, the tick then inserted its sharp, serrated mouthparts into your skin. Soon thereafter, it began secreting a sticky substance known as cementum around the bite site, steadily and more firmly attaching itself to you over the ensuing hours.
Right Tool for the Job
Time for action. First, you need a proper implement to remove a tick. (Do not try to pull off or pick out an embedded tick with your fingers. Doing so is unlikely to work and can increase the risk of infection.) A variety of inexpensive options exist, most featuring some version of a thin, tapered, V-shaped notch that can slide between the tick’s body and head. The Pro-Tick Remedy and the Liberty Mountain Tick Key are both good choices for less than $10. In a pinch, you can create an improvised tool by cutting a narrow “V” into a plastic card.
The single best tick-removal tool, however, is a pair of sharp-pointed—not blunt-ended—tweezers, says Dr. Tom Mather, a tick ecologist with the Tick Encounter Resource Center at the University of Rhode Island. “Something with enough of a point to pick up a poppy seed. We haven’t found anything out there that has worked as consistently.” Tweezers are also much better for grasping and removing tiny tick nymphs, which can be small enough to slide through the notches of other tools.
Do Not Twist
Position the tool or tweezers close to your skin, grabbing the tick between its body and mouthparts. Once you’ve firmly secured the tick, lift the tool or tweezers upward and away from your skin with steadily increasing force until the tick comes free. It will abruptly release when the time comes. Do not jerk or twist the tick as you pull, which can cause the mouthparts to break off underneath your skin and increased the risk of infection. Once the tick is removed, consider saving it for identification, especially if you’re not 100 percent sure what tick variety got you.
Watch for Symptoms
Deer ticks, one of the most common varieties in the Northeast, can transmit Lyme disease and other nasty illnesses, including babesiosis, anaplasmosis, and ehrlichiosis. In the days and weeks that follow a tick bite, be watchful for vague, flu-like symptoms such as fever, aching joints, and fatigue— all indications of possible infection. A spreading rash also can develop around the bite site, especially in cases of Lyme disease. If you experience any of these symptoms, consult a doctor for treatment. Alternatively, you can seek medical advice immediately after a bite, but keep in mind that a tick must be attached for a minimum of 24 hours to transmit Lyme.