Let’s talk about how ticks get stuck on you in the first place. Ticks are small arachnids that can land on you when you pass by a bush, a tree or other vegetation. They’re tiny little buggers but they can cause a world of trouble. How so? Once a tick finds its way onto your body, it will go somewhere warm and moist — most often your armpit, scalp, or even worse, your groin. Then, it will attach itself to your body and begin sucking your blood. Therein begins the problem. Ticks can be carriers of diseases, such as Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, or most commonly, Lyme disease, and by sucking your blood, transfer that disease to you. The same goes for your pets if they pick up one of these blood suckers.
Did you know that Lyme disease was so named because it was discovered in Lyme, Conn.? That’s right. You see, back in 1975, there was a high concentration of children and adults being diagnosed with arthritis. After speaking with the patients, doctors noted that many of the patients had been bitten by ticks around the time of the onset of their condition. Further research linked the condition to the bites. Lyme disease can not only cause arthritis, it can cause also serious neurological symptoms. But ticks have to be on you for at least 36-48 hours to begin transmitting bacteria, so locating a tick and removing it effectively is key to disease prevention.
How do you that? First, you can prevent the tick from landing on you in the first place. When hiking, be sure to stay on the middle of trails as opposed to wading through the brush on the sides. Also, make sure to wear clothes that cover all exposed parts of your body when hiking, i.e. long sleeves and long pants.
What if you do find a tick? Make sure to remove it as soon as possible. Here’s what you do: Use tweezers to get a grip on the tick as close to the surface of the skin as possible. (This can be tricky if the tick is engorged with blood and therefore much bigger than usual.) Then, pull up with steady, even pressure. If you twist or move your hand, it could cause parts of the tick’s mouth to break off and be left in your skin. This graphic from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it succinctly:
Also, make sure not to squeeze the tick too hard, as this could cause it to emit its body fluids into your wound, increasing your chance for infection. And the CDC wants you to forget the old remedies: "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 — not waiting for it to detach."
After the tick is removed, clean the area well with alcohol. Make sure you dispose of the tick so it can’t attach itself to anyone else.
If you’re bitten by a tick, monitor yourself closely in the weeks after removing it. If a rash develops (a rash indicating Lyme disease often resembles a bull's-eye) or you start to have flu-like symptoms, see your doctor right away for a Lyme disease test.
When I lived in a wooded New Jersey area, my pediatrician recommended checking my kids for ticks each night before their bath, since they spent most of their summer days playing outside. Good practice and great advice. Keeping the ticks away or removing them immediately means you won’t have to worry about the diseases they carry in the first place.