Now what? Tick bitesMy childhood home was a cedar shingle house set on a wooded lot. Deer, snapping turtles, and butterflies roamed the backyard as freely as I did, taking advantage of the leaf canopy that kept us shaded from the glimmering sun. It became my custom to dawdle by the stream during the day, darting inside only to catch a cartoon here or there. As I sat watching Shaggy and Scooby run from a ghost one day, I idly ran my fingers through my hair and encountered a bump. Alarmed, I probed again, sure that I was encountering my first tick. It was an unwelcome encounter, and I dashed to my mother for help removing the offending predator.
She sparked a match, blew out the flame and applied it to the tick, certain that the heat would require the tick to surrender my scalp. It was the 1970’s, and the method was commonly accepted and applied. Unfortunately, the tick didn’t budge and so we resorted to tweezers, which did. Once removed, I didn’t think twice about the tick, and resumed my woods-y wandering without a care.
Now, we know more a bit more about ticks. First, we know that it’s important to remove a tick quickly and well. With a fine-tipped set of tweezers, grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Next, pull upward with a steady, even pressure. The trick is to remove it without leaving any mouthparts, so don’t twist the tick. If you cannot remove the mouthparts easily with tweezers, it’s best to let the skin heal. After removing the tick, place it in alcohol or a sealed bag if you want to have it available for identification later. If you don’t care to keep it, you can flush it down the toilet or wrap it in tape. Finally, clean the area with rubbing alcohol or soap and water.
We also know what not to do, although these methods might have been part of your childhood experience with ticks. First, don’t heat the tick with a match or other instrument. The goal is to remove it, not to incite it to burrow deeper or get it to detach. The goal is to pull it out quickly and well. Also, don’t paint the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, as these methods just don’t work. Finally, once you remove the tick don’t crush it with your bare fingers. It’s best to dispose of it without further contact.
Finally, we know that ticks are serious disease vectors. Some symptoms of tick-related illnesses include a headache, fever and chills, muscle aches, rashes and joint pain. If you develop a rash or a fever within a few weeks, be sure to tell your doctor about the tick bite. As for prevention, regular treatment of your yard, as well as insect repellant spray will both help fight the bite.