Dear Straight Dope:
My dad always told me that the best way to remove a tick from your skin is to twist it counter-clockwise. What happens if you twist it clockwise?
SDStaff Jill replies:
Ah, the old “righty-tighty, lefty loosey” rule. Works for screws, but ticks aren’t threaded. Never twist a tick to remove it, because this can leave part of the tick in your skin. Other popular — but bad — tick removal advice includes trying to suffocate them by swabbing them with Vaseline, gasoline or nail polish, or holding a hot match to their butts. These methods just piss them off. I would particularly discourage you from combining these measures; dousing a tick on your body with gasoline AND lighting it with a match, lest you emulate a Buddhist war protester.
Ticks use a harpoon-like barbed feeding apparatus called a “hypostome” to attach to your skin, then secrete a cement-like substance to hold them in place. For a good picture of a tick feeding, go here.
Here’s the proper way to remove a tick:
Clean the area with hydrogen peroxide or another antiseptic cleaner. Use clean, fine point tweezers and grab the tick down low, where the mouthparts enter the skin. Pull the tick away with a steady slow motion. Don’t wiggle, jerk, or pick at it. Wash your hands and disinfect the tweezers and bite site. Be careful not to crush or squeeze the tick while it’s attached because it’s likely to salivate or regurgitate infected fluids into your body.
It’s important to remove the tick promptly — most tickborne diseases are only transmitted after the tick has been feeding on you for some time (at least 4-6 hours for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever and possibly 24 hours or more for transmission of Lyme disease). If you don’t have a pair of tweezers available, loop a cotton thread around the tick’s mouthparts as close to the skin as possible, then pull gently up and outwards. There are also several commercially available tools specifically designed for removing ticks if you have this problem a lot.
The Acarology Laboratory at Ohio State University suggests that you keep the tick alive for a month so that it can later be identified and tested should you develop symptoms of a tick-related disease. Those folks are likely to just keep them as pets, though. If you do choose to save your tick, put it in a plastic bag or airtight vial with a moistened paper towel, label it with your name, address, and date of tickbite, and put it in the refrigerator. Alternatively, the Mayo clinic vengefully recommends that you simply “drop it in a fire or smash it between two rocks.”
The most commonly known tick-transmitted diseases in this country are Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Even in areas where Lyme disease is endemic, only a small percentage of ticks carry it. If you’re worried, you can have your tick tested. Here’s the page from the CDC on the procedure: http://www.cdc.gov/lyme/removal/. And we found at least one company that tests ticks for a $50.00 fee: http://www.tickencounter.org/tick_testing.
If you develop any symptoms such as fever, rash, severe headaches or anything else that’s really abnormal three to thirty days after the tick is removed, consult your doctor as soon as possible.
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