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Health Tip: I found a tick on me, what should I do?

eDocAmerica Modified: June 5, 2009 at 1:27 pm •  Published: June 5, 2009
Worldwide, ticks are second only to mosquitoes as vectors in transmitting disease to humans. Ticks are not insects, but are arthropods, similar to spiders. The most common illnesses caused by ticks are Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Erlichiosis, Tularemia, and Lyme Disease. As with mosquitoes, it is the organisms in the tick's saliva that are primarily responsible for causing disease, not the bite itself. One exception to this is an illness known as "tick paralysis" which is caused by a toxin that affects the host's nervous system.

A tick is crawling on my arm! As long as it is handled properly, there is little to no risk of becoming ill if the tick has not yet attached itself. Only ticks that are attached and feeding can transmit a disease. When removing the tick, wear protective gloves so you don't spread bacteria from the tick to your hands. If bare hands are used to remove the tick, be sure and wash with soap and water. Once removed, don't crush the tick as this could transmit disease. Instead, rinse it down a sink or flush it in a toilet.

What do I do if I find a tick that is attached to the skin? Even if the tick has attached itself, the risk of acquiring a tick-borne infection is quite low. For example, there is only a 1-2% chance of acquiring Lyme disease from an observed tick bite, even in an area where the disease is extremely common. In most cases, ticks remain attached and feeding for a number of hours prior to transmitting the organisms that cause disease. It is true, however, that the earlier that the tick is removed from the skin, the less risk there is of becoming infected.

What is the best way to remove an embedded tick? A number of methods of removing ticks have been suggested. Many of these, such as the use of a smoldering match, fingernail polish, or coating with Vaseline are not advisable. These methods increase the possibility of the tick passing infected saliva into the host's bloodstream. The goal is to remove the entire tick and in particular the head and mouthparts. The proper method for tick removal is as follows:

Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin surface as possible.

Pull backward with even, steady pressure. Since the tick's mouthparts are barbed, not spiral, twisting does not make removal easier.

Avoid squeezing or crushing the body in order to minimize expressing potentially infectious saliva from the tick.

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