How to Properly Remove a Tick and Why

Ticks are parasitic bugs, related to spiders and scorpions, but more of a detriment to humans.  Ticks can pass disease through their bite into someone’s bloodstream.  So understanding how to remove a tick is crucial. It is also important to identify what type of tick is embedded in your skin.  If you love spending time outdoors in the summer when ticks are most abundant, you need some tips on preventing bites.

This brief guide is an overview of what to do if you find a tick on yourself, someone else, or a pet, the potential diseases they can carry, and what you should do if you develop symptoms after a tick bite.

Where Ticks Thrive and Why Populations Fluctuate

Ticks can’t survive in harsh, cold weather, but climate change has made warmer winters, enabling higher survival rates. While ticks typically emerge in springtime, they become prominent in summer, when the weather is hottest.   They can hitch a ride on animal hosts to feed on blood. If there are higher deer, mice, and bird populations in an area, you can bet that there’s a denser population of ticks too.

Thriving in warm, humid climates, like the southern states, ticks love ample vegetation.   They are often hiding and clinging to forest trees or swamp plants. However, these parasites can migrate, making them more dangerous in untamed wilderness and hot temperatures.

Animals that Transport Ticks

Ticks use animals for both quick transportation and a steady food supply. Feeding on blood, these parasitic bugs often attach to wildlife.  Examples are white-tailed deer, rodents (especially mice), migratory birds, and pets (like cats and dogs).

Pets can bring ticks into your home, risking human exposure. Rodents, deer, and birds can carry ticks long distances, making it easier for the bugs to invade different areas of land. Even if you’ve never encountered a tick before, wherever you are, their numbers can fluctuate. They can increase to become visible based on climate, temperature, and vegetation from one year to the next.

The Diseases that Ticks Carry

There are multiple serious diseases that ticks can carry, such as:

  • Lyme Disease. The most common disease is caused by a harsh strain of bacteria in the tick’s saliva.   This passes through bites after a tick has latched deep into the skin. If left untreated, it can lead to neurological problems, like early onset dementia, and extreme joint pain.   Also, these diseases can lead to heart problems, like severe palpitations and susceptibility to artery damage.
  • Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Potentially fatal, this disease causes severe flu-like symptoms.  The disease then evolves into itchy, raw rashes and high fevers that are challenging to cool with antibiotics.
  • One of the diseases that are more responsive to antibiotic treatment, this bacterial infection causes fevers, rashes, muscle aches, and sinus congestion—kind of like a bad cold. The same can be said of Anaplasmosis, another tick-caused infection.
  • Babesiosis. Impacting red blood cells, this infection spreads quickly, often causing anemia and severe flu-like symptoms, particularly in people with weak immune systems.
  • Alpha-gal Syndrome.  This syndrome causes an allergic reaction when the subject eats food from mammals (red meat).

How to Properly Remove a Tick (Especially if One Has Bitten You)

There are right and wrong ways to remove ticks. Proper removal is essential to prevent disease transmission. Luckily, typically, transmission is only possible after the tick has been attached for over 24 hours.

Improper removal can squeeze the tick, causing it to deepen its bite and release dangerous bacteria into the host’s bloodstream. Additionally, in extremely rare cases, ticks that are attached for days, or even weeks, can cause paralysis, so proper, early removal is crucial.

Here’s how to properly remove a tick:

  1. Use sharp, fine-tipped tweezers, grasping the tick firmly as close to your skin as possible.
  1. Do not squeeze, twist, or tear the tick off too quickly. Use steady pressure and pull upward until the tick is released from the skin.
  1. Use rubbing alcohol, iodine, and soap with water to thoroughly clean the area where the tick was attached. Scrub your hands as well.
  1. Dispose of the tick. Submerge it in a capful of rubbing alcohol, seal it in a container or bag until it runs out of oxygen, or flush it down the toilet. You can also burn it with a lighter’s flame while holding it in the tweezers. Never crush a tick with your bare fingers because it could release pathogens that are dangerous if they get into an open wound on your hands or body.
  1. After removal, monitor the bite area for signs of a circular rash or pus-filled blisters. Be attentive to flu-like symptoms, especially if they are sudden, severe, and within the first 2-4 weeks after a tick bite. Inform your doctor of what happened, just in case they decide to perform blood tests as a proactive measure.

Be Safe Out There: Regular Tick Checks and Where to Learn More

Tick-borne illnesses can be difficult to detect because the symptoms often mimic those of a bad cold or severe flu. However, modern blood tests can pinpoint an infection, and with the right antibiotics, diseases can be dealt with effectively and quickly before they wreak too much havoc on your immune system.

  • Check yourself, your pets, and your loved ones after you’ve been outdoors. Wooded and grassy areas are ideal tick habitats, so thoroughly check your body, hair, and clothing after venturing into forests, fields, or grassy yards.
  • Don’t neglect hard-to-see areas of your body. Ticks are small and can hide in areas that may otherwise go unnoticed. Place your entire body under careful scrutiny, like behind your ears, in your armpits, around your groin, and behind your knees.
  • Take protective measures to avoid ticks, even if the weather is sweltering. Wear long, lightweight sleeves, long pants, and high boots when trudging through woodland areas or tall grasses. Use insect repellant to keep ticks from biting in if one crawls onto you.

At Stoney Creek Nature Explorers, we offer homeschool enrichment programs where kids and adults alike can learn about the wonders and risks of nature, including ticks and other insects to watch out for. Teaching children about ticks and emphasizing proper checks and removal is an integral part of our outdoor curriculums, and we go through hands-on learning activities to stress sustainable living and environmental factors. Understanding ticks and taking proactive measures allows everyone to enjoy being outside safely while minimizing risks associated with tick-borne diseases.

For more information on outdoor education, exploration, and tick safety this summer, contact Stoney Creek Farm.