Removing a tick as soon as you find it can make the difference between a mildly irksome bite and an infection with a variety of bacteria, protozoa, and other organisms. Most ticks are not actually carrying microorganisms that are responsible for disease and so many tick bites are largely innocuous. However, Lyme disease is contracted through tick bite as the bacteria held in the tick’s gut or saliva are transmitted through the skin during feeding. Performing a tick check after spending time outdoors is an important part of Lyme disease prevention and it can also help to know in advance how to remove a tick from a dog, a child, or yourself should it be necessary.
Safe Tick Removal
To remove a tick you should use blunt curved tweezers and try to grasp the tick as close to its mouth as possible. This is the part that is stuck into your skin; do not try to remove a tick by pulling it from its body as this can result in the mouth part staying attached to your skin and the tick regurgitating its stomach contents, squeezing bacteria into your skin, as you compress it during removal.
Watch this video about how to remove a deer tick that may cause Lyme disease
Avoid Squeezing the Tick
If a tick has been in place on the skin for a while then it may already be engorged (swollen) and it is very important not to squeeze the tick’s belly so as to reduce the risk of infection. Try to pull the tick straight up and out rather than twisting or unscrewing it, the latter approach may result in the tick’s head twisting off and remaining attached to the skin.
No-Tweezer Tick Removal
In the event that you do not have tweezers to hand, use your fingers but cover them with tissue paper to try to avoid handling the tick with bare skin. Upon removal immediately clean the area on the skin, as well as your hands, with warm water and soap, or hand sanitizer if you do not have access to a washroom.
Antibiotics After Tick Bites
If you have any antibiotic ointment to hand then you can also use this on the area of the bite as a precautionary measure. Creams such as polymixin B sulfate, or bacitracin are good options and just a small dab of this on the break in the skin can help reduce your risk of Lyme disease bacteria surviving and causing an infection. Should the skin become itchy or develop a rash stop using the ointment as this may indicate an allergic reaction.
After Removing a Tick
Either dispose of the tick or place the tick in a dry jar or a ziplock bag and store it in the freezer (where possible) so as to preserve it for the purposes of identification. In the event that sickness arises after the tick bite, storing the tick can help identify the cause of the illness and allow Lyme disease researchers to improve their knowledge of the local tick population and its disease-carrying potential.
Ticks are often very small and this can make it difficult to see if you have successfully removed the whole tick and not left its head buried in the skin. Looking under a microscope or magnifying glass at the tick you removed can help to check that the tick is intact and has been removed completely.
Early Lyme Disease Symptoms
After removing a tick it is important to monitor for any signs of infection in the area of the bite. This can include pain, redness, and tenderness in the area along with warmth in the skin and any swelling. Different bacteria and protozoa create differing rashes that arise at different times so Lyme disease and its coinfections may confound diagnosis where multiple skin rashes occur or a single rash arises even in cases of multiple infections. The Lyme disease rash, erythema migrans, is a distinctive bull’s-eye pattern but it does not always occur and so its absence is not a sure-fire way of determining freedom from infection after a tick bite.
Other early stage Lyme disease symptoms include a flu-like illness with headaches, fever and chills, lethargy, and joint pains and aches. These symptoms may occur a few days after the tick bite, disappear after a few days and then return weeks or months later if the infection goes untreated.
Do Not Try This At Home
When you spot a tick on yourself, your dog or other pet, or a family member or friend do not try to burn it off or smother it in petroleum jelly, alcohol, gasoline, or nail varnish. These methods may simply result in the tick pushing bacteria more quickly into the skin through regurgitation. Specialized tick-removal devices are available and are a good investment for those who frequent tick-infested areas. Blunt curved tweezers are your best tool for removing a tick, or a thread can be used if tweezers are unavailable. If you cannot remove a tick safely then ask your doctor or a healthcare professional to assist you. Where you spot a tick on your dog it can be difficult to remove by yourself, especially if your dog is not used to being handled. Asking a veterinarian for help, or even having a friend gently restrain your dog and feed him or her treats while you remove the tick calmly and quietly can all help make sure the whole tick is removed successfully. Dogs will naturally hide symptoms of illness meaning that it may be difficult to spot early symptoms of canine Lyme disease; if you have removed a tick from your dog then closely monitor them for symptoms such as lameness, lethargy or fever.
Lyme Disease Prevention Through Tick Removal
Ticks cement their mouthparts into the skin during feeding and this can make them difficult to remove. When pulling the tick out the skin will lift slightly but it is important to maintain even pressure and a steady movement during tick removal. Once one tick is removed you should continue to check for others as you may have received multiple bites. Knowing how to remove a tick safely is an important aspect of Lyme disease prevention, as is checking the whole family, pets included, after any period of time outdoors.