Ahh, warm weather, the great outdoors…and ticks. Unfortunately, these items all go together. For some, the very word “tick” makes their skin crawl. Of course, the tick bite does not hurt and the tick actually consumes very little of your blood. However, the idea of a parasite attached to your body, especially one that can spread pathogens such as the bacteria for Lyme disease, is…well…creepy. Removing a tick as soon as possible, with as little fanfare as possible. is an absolute necessity.
As soon as you realize a tick has attached to you, throw all the old wives tales out. The tick has been waiting patiently to find you and is cemented to you until it is done feeding; it will not just pull out and walk away. Do not try to smother it with nail polish, petroleum jelly or mineral oil. Do not irritate it with alcohol or rubbing alcohol, bleach or the old hot match trick. These tricks actually may cause it to imbed further—or may stress the tick, causing it to send more secretions into your blood stream and greatly increase your chance of infection.
Basically, the pest will need to be extracted. There are tick removal tools on the market; some swear by them. However, a set of flat tweezers is fine. After you disinfect the area, grasp the tick with the tweezers as close to your skin as possible; pull directly straight up or out. Do not wiggle or twist as that will lead to a greater chance of mouth parts being left in the skin. Pathogens will not continue to be transmitted, but it increases the chance of the bite site becoming infected. Be careful not to squeeze the tick’s body during this procedure as this increases the possibility of infected secretions being pumped into your body.
Make sure you save the tick in a lidded jar or a sealed plastic bag noted with the date. If you suspect you have a tick-borne illness later, take the tick with you to the doctor for analysis. Immediately disinfect the bite and your hands. If you feel you simply must destroy the tick right then (perhaps you are not hiking with a handy jar or bag), do not try to crush it with you fingers; this just exposes you to more potential infection. Either crush it with your heel or between two rocks. Do not just throw it away. Ticks are very resilient; they have been found to last underwater for months and for years in drought. They will figure a way out of your trash can—and back onto you.
Remember that the best way to avoid tick bites is to avoid ticks. However, if you do not plan to stay inside from April to September, diminish the potential of your own yard being a tick playground. Keep grass short and minimize brush and leaf litter where ticks like to hide…and wait for you. If your property abuts a heavily wooded area, create a barrier using wood chips. Some people also use chemical pest control in the spring to retard tick infestations. Thoughts on effectiveness of that step are mixed—the “terminator tick” is relatively resistant.
However, you may actually want to stray beyond your yard at some point during the summer months; loving the outdoors includes going into areas where ticks abound. When possible, use the old adage of maximizing detection with light clothing and minimizing exposed skin; wear long sleeves and keep shirts tucked in pants and pants tucked in socks—and forget the sandals. However, in reality, there will plenty of outdoor activity that precludes clomping around in “full armor.” You will inevitably choose to enjoy some part of the summer in the great outdoors wearing…shorts and sandals. When venturing out, use tick repellent; spray your clothes, too. Remember to check yourself, your children and your pet regularly throughout the day to minimize the chance of ticks attaching. If you find a tick, use the steps discussed above to remove it quickly and cleanly—and realize you would rather deal with this problem than be trapped in your house while the beautiful summer months “tick” by.