Web Exclusive: How to safely and properly remove a tick

By |  March 14, 2018

Dr. Janis Reed, BCE, Technical Services Manager, Control Solutions Inc.

There are many old wives tales and folklore surrounding the correct way to remove a tick that has embedded itself into your (or another animal’s) skin. Living in the south, the at-home techniques I’ve heard over the years range from silly to dangerous, including:

• Apply a hot match or cigarette/cigar/cigarette lighter to the tick; it will back out on its own. NOPE!

• Suffocate them with petroleum jelly/nail polish and wait for them to die. NOPE!

• Apply alcohol/nail polish remover/booze and wait for them to die. NOPE!

• Twist it out. DOUBLE NOPE!

• Smash/squish/squeeze/mash them to kill them. DOUBLE NOPE!

Interestingly, in my many years as an entomologist, I’ve never heard the correct method from a non-entomologist or medical professional.

Before we discuss the correct removal technique, let’s take a minute to discuss why the above listed methods are incorrect — and in some cases dangerous.

Ticks feed by inserting their mouthparts into your skin. These mouthparts have barbed edges, helping the tick to stay in place when they feed. Some ticks, specifically most hard ticks, produce a sticky glue-like material that helps to hold them in place. As they feed, they inject saliva into your bloodstream; this saliva helps to keep the blood flowing and kill pain the host animal may feel due to the feeding. It’s during this feeding and injecting of saliva stage that transmission of pathogens that cause disease are typically transferred.

The correct method for removing a tick is remarkably simple: You only need a pair of tweezers or forceps, and a disinfecting liquid (such as rubbing alcohol).

1. Grasp the tick firmly, as close to skin as possible, with the tip of the tweezers or forceps.

2. Pull slowly and steadily out in an upward direction, away from the skin. Be careful not to twist the tick; this can cause the mouthparts to break off under the skin (thanks to the “cement” holding the mouthparts in place).

3. Once the tick is removed, swab the affected area with the disinfectant. If desired, an anti-biotic ointment and adhesive bandage may be used. Save the tick in alcohol if possible.

So now, let’s address the “incorrect” methods and why they are dangerous.
Any disruptive action taken by the remover, such as burning, smothering, smashing, etc., increases the chances of the tick “vomiting” into the host. This means the chance of potential pathogens being introduced to the host increases. This increases the chance of disease development.

Twisting the tick, as mentioned above, can cause the mouthparts to break off, sometimes embedded into the skin. This can lead to infection and irritation.

Covering the tick with petroleum jelly, nail polish or other substance is also not effective. Ticks can survive a long time without access to oxygen — and “waiting for the tick to die” can take days, or even weeks. It is safer and much more effective to use the method listed above.

Overall, it is important to remove a tick as quickly as possible after it is discovered. Happy tick season!

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1 Comment on "Web Exclusive: How to safely and properly remove a tick"

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  1. Josh Silk says:

    Really appreciate this article. Ticks are so scary as they definitely can carry disease. We are based in south Florida and have lots of ticks in our woody area and most people do not know how to remove these ticks! we are pest pros in weston florida!