Although your risk of contracting a disease or infection from a tick is relatively low in most cases, there’s no sense in taking unnecessary chances. It’s important to know how to repel or avoid ticks if possible, as well as how to remove a tick.
These strategies are particularly important in areas where Lyme disease is common. You should always check for ticks as soon as you come inside. Checking your clothes and body reduces the risk of being bitten and having to remove the tick.
Although tick bites don’t have the potential to kill you quickly like snake bites, there are some risks with long term disease that you can contract from an infected tick if it bites you.
When removing a tick, the object of the exercise is to remove the tick’s head as well as its body and to avoid crushing the body.
The old strategies of smothering the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish, gasoline or alcohol, or burning it with a match should be avoided. They can cause skin irritation and they don’t work well.
Worse, they may irritate the tick and make it regurgitate infected saliva into your body. On rare occasions, you may be unable to remove the tick. If that happens, contact your doctor.
Don’t handle the tick with bare hands. Ideally, you should use tweezers, but if you don’t have any or you’re still out in the woods, put on gloves or cover your fingers with a tissue.
Don’t use your fingernails to remove a tick, because if you have any tiny cuts in the skin, an infected tick can transmit the infection to you.
Tick removal devices are available but fine-tipped tweezers work equally well and in some cases, better, according to experts.
If you’re going to be out in the woods a lot you might want to carry tweezers in a small case or zip-lock bag in your pocket.
The tweezers should have a fine point, not the blunt ends commonly used for tweezing eyebrows.
Another option is to use a cotton thread. You can take a single loop and tie it snugly around the tick’s mouthparts. The loop should be as close to the skin as possible. Then, you want to pull the loop upwards and outwards. Be sure not to twist, and come straight out.
Avoid the Body
The part of the tick that is stuck in your skin is the mouth. The body of the tick will be above the skin.
Do not grab a tick around the body, especially if it is swollen. Squeezing the body could push infected fluid into your body. The swelling may also be caused by the blood the tick has fed on, and squeezing it can make the tick rupture, which is messy to say the least.
Remove the Tick
Grasp the tick as close to the mouth as possible with either the tweezers or your fingers. Gently pull the tick straight out until the mouth lets go of your skin.
Don’t twist, because you could break the tick’s body loose from the head and leave the head in your skin. However, sometimes no matter how careful you are the head will break off. While not ideal, this is not a disaster, either – just let the skin heal on its own and expel the head.
You may want to put the tick in the freezer (put it in a small jar with a tight lid or a zip-lock bag) if you think you might need to identify it later.
Otherwise flush it down the toilet. Once the tick has been removed, clean the area of the bite with warm soapy water or rubbing alcohol.
Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water or an antiseptic wipe, gel or spray. If you want you can cover the bite area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly and a band-aid.
Keeping the Ticks Away
Insect repellents with DEET can help repel the insects. If you prefer an herbal version, look for repellents that contain garlic, peppermint, lemon grass, cedar, thyme and geraniol, which the EPA says are safe. Remember that no repellent lasts forever. So reapply as necessary or according to instructions.
Dress the Part
If you need to be outside in tick-prone areas, dress the part. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants. Tuck the pant legs into your socks so that ticks don’t have a quick way to your skin. A hat will help keep ticks from landing directly on your head. Light-colored clothes make it easier to spot ticks, which are dark brown or black.
Clean Up the Area
Ticks are often found on rodents, which like hiding places and nests in areas with brush, woodpiles, tall grass and stone fences. Clearing and cleaning these areas around your home can help decrease the rodent population. Traps or cats can also help.
When You Come Inside
Check for ticks immediately. Don’t forget that your pets can bring ticks indoors with them. A good brushing can help dislodge the insects before they bite your pet or transfer themselves to you.
Don’t just put dirty clothes in the hamper. You can get rid of ticks on your clothes by running them through a hot clothes dryer for about 15 minutes.
If you pay careful attention to clothing and the area where you’re traveling or working, use repellents consistently and check for ticks as soon as you go inside. If you do, then you should be able to stop them from biting you in the first place. If not, these tick removal strategies should help you get rid of the tick for good.
If you are stuck out in the wild, remember that there are many survival tricks out there.
What kinds of methods do you use to enjoy the outdoors tick free?
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About guest author… Tom Sheppard
Tom Sheppard spends a lot of his time in the outdoors. He prefers the woods in North Texas, and enjoys camping and hiking. In his spare time, he often shares his knowledge on survival over at Trek Warrior.