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Healthwise: Tick Removal

By: Cheryn Stone Email
By: Cheryn Stone Email

July 14, 2010

Summer is the season for ticks. Dr. Matthew Backens with Family Medicine of Albemarle says it seems like he sees a patient with a tick bite every day, and he wants to separate the fact from fiction on the subject.

"Ticks are actually an arachnid. They are related to like a spider or a mite, so they can only crawl," said Dr. Backens.

Ticks are most often found crawling around in grass or a pile of leaves in your yard, or brought into your home by a pet.

There are several commonly suggested methods for removing a tick, most of which are wrong. Dr. Backens says smothering the tick in petroleum jelly or nail polish is wrong. The same goes for applying alcohol or a burned match. And removing a tick with your fingers can cause infection.

"Anything that would irritate the tick actually would make them secrete more saliva into your body, so your rates of infection are higher," said Dr. Backens.

He says using tweezers is the correct way to remove a tick.

"Take tweezers and you attach to the tick at its mouth parts, that is right next to the skin, use a slow steady pressure and pull perpendicular to the skin until it comes off," he said.

Once the tick has been removed, you should look for any remaining parts in the skin and remove them like you would a splinter.

"After that you wash it with either soap or water and alcohol," he said.

Regardless the method, the key is to get the tick off your skin as soon as possible, the shorter the time, the less likely you'll get sick. Dr. Backens says the size of the tick can indicate how long it's been there.

"It starts small and flat, sometimes about the size of a small freckle, but as it fills with blood it can actually be the size of about half of a dime. So you look to see if it is engorged with blood," he said.

If you do get bit, doctors say you should watch for flu-like symptoms. They also advise you save the tick, as each can carry a different illness.

Doctors say using a good tick replant that contains the chemical DEET is the best way to prevent tick bites.


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