When you see a tick attached to your skin, your first reaction—to get it off now—is understandable. However it’s important to know and understand the risk of contracting
Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses.
Small and Stubborn
A tick has three active life stages: Larva, nymph, and adult. The Deer tick and the Western black-legged tick are capable of transmitting Lyme disease bacteria to humans during the nymphal and adult stages. The deer tick can also transmit other pathogens to humans.
At the nymphal stage, these ticks are no larger than the point of a pencil tip. The female adult is about the size of a sesame seed, yet can swell 10-fold in size when fully engorged. The nymphs and adult females are the main transmitters of Lyme disease.
The much larger American Dog Tick is commonly found in the Midwest. It is a carrier of the pathogen for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
The height of tick season is during the warm-weather months. Ticks live in shrubs, grassy areas, and open fields and attach to humans and animals during close contact. They lodge themselves by inserting their mouth-parts into the skin surface, secreting a cement like substance into the wound to provide a firm attachment.
If you discover a tick on you, remove it promptly. Don’t panic, because not all ticks are infected with diseases. Also, the probability of contracting a tick-borne disease, such as Lyme, is greatly reduced if the tick is dislodged within the first 24-48 hours.
The tick may appear embedded in the skin, but only its mouthparts penetrate the skin’s surface. Insert the fine pointed tweezers tips under the tick’s body from the side and grasp its mouth-parts or head at the skin surface. Gently pull the tick straight out, making sure that all the part is removed. Then clean the bite with antiseptic.
Do not crush, twist, or burn the tick with a match, or smother it with petroleum jelly, as you may have learned in the past. These procedures are not effective and increase the chances of disease transmission. If you do not have tweezers available, use a tissue or leaf to grasp the tick with your fingertips and provide a barrier against the tick’s bodily fluids if it should burst.
During tick season, take steps to guard against becoming a host. Travel on cleared, well-populated trails; wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants in light colors (which make it easier to spot ticks); tuck pants into your boots or tape pant legs to boots or shoes; apply effective tick repellants containing permethrin periodically. Check your head, skin, and clothing often.
From early spring until mid-autumn, you’ll find ticks outdoors. Seed ticks, the newly hatched young, appear in early July and persist until a killing frost; they are particularly bothersome because they are very tiny and several hundred can be contracted at a time. One female tick can produce 3000 young.