In North America and especially the Northeast part of the country, tick bites have become synonymous with the dreaded Lyme disease; however, ticks can carry a number of different pathogens that are able to cause human disease. Ticks have been shown to transmit ehrlichosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, and Q fever among others. In fact, a single tick can carry a number of bacteria, viruses, and parasites which is why and tick bite or tick attachment to the skin is taken so seriously by medical professionals. This article describes what you should do in the event of a tick bite and how to go about tick removal. There is also a discussion of some of the available over-the-counter tick removal devices and an examination of some folk remedies.
Similar to a spider, a tick is an insect with eight legs and a bulbous body. Unlike a spider, however, a tick’s legs are much shorter in relation to its body and its powerful mandible (jaw) is capable of burrowing into and securely attaching to the skin. Ticks are common in wooded areas, like insects in general, but the incidence of ticks carrying disease (and which diseases) varies depending on the region of the country. Since routine testing of removed ticks is not done, it is not always necessary to seek professional medical advice for a tick that has invaded the skin. However, prompt and careful tick removal is important because the creature can survive on the skin for some time, feeding off of the nutrients found there. Also, the longer the tick resides in the skin, the higher the risk of transmission of any infectious material it may be carrying.
Tick removal procedure
The person removing the tick should wear gloves since the tick may contain infectious material. The tick should be grasped as close to the skin as possible with an attempt to secure the mandible with the tick removal device, if possible. The tick should not be yanked or pulled abruptly but rather a smooth and steady pressure should be applying to the tick. Twisting or yanking can cause the jaw to break free and remain in the wound. Also, every attempt should be made not to squeeze or crush the tick since this will release the contents that may be contained within it. Once the tick is removed, the skin should be washed thoroughly.
Tick removal devices
There are several tick removal devices commercially available including:
· Pro-Tick Remedy - Small metal device with tapered end used
· The Tick Key - A key-sized device with a tapered slot
· Tick Twister – A device with a hook-shaped pronged end
· Ticked Off - Spoon-shaped device with notched end
· TRIX Tick Removal System - A fiber loop lasso
· Sawyer Tick Pliers - Cradlehead pliers with the benefit of a magnifying glass
These devices are actually fairly effective and are as good as the forceps used by physicians. In fact, some emergency department physicians use these same commercial devices in performance of the tick removal procedure. Apparently what determines success is the user’s ability to slowly and steadily remove the tick and the familiarity with the chosen device.
Home remedies and widely held beliefs
Contrary to popular belief, the jaw itself is not capable of transmitting infectious material; the salivary glands actually hold the pathogenic organisms and are removed with the body. Also, holding a match or cigarette near the tick is not advised either. This can cause the tick to regurgitate harmful substances into the skin. Petroleum jelly, gasoline, acetone or ethyl acetate (nail polish removers) should not be used either for the same reason. For that matter, the tick removal procedure should be done without local anesthesia if possible since lidocaine and other local anesthetics can cause the tick to eject pathogens as well.