Tick removal and testing
If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. Several tick removal devices are available on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick effectively.
How to remove a tick
- Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible.
- Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, remove the mouth-parts with tweezers. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water.
- Dispose of a live tick by submersing it in alcohol, placing it in a sealed bag/container, wrapping it tightly in tape, or flushing it down the toilet. Never crush a tick with your fingers.
If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor. Be sure to tell the doctor about your recent tick bite, when the bite occurred, and where you most likely acquired the tick.
Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible–do not wait for it to detach.
People who have removed a tick often wonder if they should have it tested. Some state or local health departments offer tick identification and testing as a community service or for research purposes (such as evaluating infection rates among ticks in an area). Check with your health department; the phone number is usually found in the government pages of the telephone book or online.
In general, testing of individual ticks is not useful because:
- If the test shows that the tick contained disease-causing organisms, that does not necessarily mean that you have been infected.
- If you have been infected, you will probably develop symptoms before results of the tick test are available. You should not wait for tick testing results before beginning appropriate treatment.
- Negative results can lead to false assurance. For example, you may have been unknowingly bitten by a different tick that was infected.
However, you may want to learn to identify various ticks. Different ticks live in different parts of the country and transmit different diseases. For your own peace of mind, you can save a tick that you have removed from yourself and have it tested later, if you wish. Just tape it to a piece of paper or put it in a small container.
- Page last reviewed: March 4, 2015
- Page last updated: November 5, 2015
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