What are Ticks? How do you remove them?
What is a Tick?
A Tick is a tiny arthropod, that happens to also suck your blood. To the common eye they look a little bit like spiders or mites (because adult Ticks generally have 8 legs).
The most common species of Tick is the Ixodes ricinus aka the Deer or Sheep Tick. These are hard bodied Ticks which can reach a length of 11mm once full of blood.
There are two other species of tick found in the UK, Ixodes canisuga (British Dog Tick) and the Ixodes trianguliceps (Vole Tick).
Do they just affect humans?
Definitely not. The adult Ticks are often found on large mammals such as horses, cattle, sheep, deer, dogs and of course humans. Young Ticks though usually feed upon smaller animals like Hedgehogs and Shrews.
What diseases do they carry?
Well a fair few . . . the main one being Lyme Disease. This is the most common and serious bacterial infection spread to humans. Lyme Disease is treatable with antibiotics if it is diagnosed early, however left untreated it can lead to some serious issues, including death! The most common symptom of Lyme Disease is a pink/red circular “bulls-eye” rash that usually develops around the bite (not always though). Following the rash you may also experience flu-like symptoms, fatigue and other sign of infection. If you see any of those, go straight to your doctor (note that symptoms can take 3-6 weeks to appear after a bite)! Luckily only a small proportion of ticks do carry Lyme Disease. The areas most affected by Lyme disease are the East Coast of the USA, and Southern Europe.
How do you remove them?
There are a number of ways you can remove ticks. But, there are only a small number of ways in which you can properly remove them. We are sure you have heard the old wives tales saying to put things like E45 on to suffocate them and do not try to burn them off. We will run through a few more do’s and don’ts towards the end.
You should always remove Ticks asap. The longer they are left the larger the risk of infection becomes. We also recommend using a pair of latex gloves (or equivalent) this is to protect you from the Tick’s blood in case it is infected.
In an ideal world a specific tick removal tool such as the Tick Key is what you need. There are other tools available and each tools has a slightly different method of removing the ticks, so we highly recommend that you read the instructions on the back of each tool! The last thing you want is to leave some of the blighter stuck in your skin!
You can use tweezers, but this isn’t recommended. Here is an extract from the Lyme Disease Action Website;
“If you do not have a specific tick removing tool then tweezers may suffice but we do not recommend this method over the use of a specific tick removing device.
Grasp the tick firmly with tweezers where the tick’s mouth meets the dog’s skin. Slowly and steadily, pull the tick, trying to get the whole tick at once. Don’t twist the tick or jerk as you may break the tick’s body and risk leaving it’s head behind.”
“If part of the tick remains buried, try to get the rest out by using a needle boiled in water for five minutes, the way you would remove a wood splinter.”
A more effective way of removing a tick without specific tick tool may be to use some dental floss . . . how do I do that you may ask?
Start off by cutting a length of floss. Make sure you choose a thin, unwaxed floss, or another type of thin string or even nano cord. This does the trick if you don’t have tweezers on hand. Once you’ve got your floss/cord/string, you’ll then need to Loop the string around the tick’s head. Tighten the loop around the head. Have a look at the below images from Wikihow:
Once tightly looped, pull the ends of the string upward in a slow, steady motion. The tick’s mouth will release the skin.
Hopefully this gives you a few options on how to remove a tick, but either way we do advise a specific Tick removal tool over and above the tweezers or the floss.
What to do after you remove the Tick?
It is important that you dispose of the Tick properly. Why? Well likelihood is that it will probably still be alive once removed. You can at this point flush it down the toilet, but actually we recommend that you actually keep the Tick. It’s recommended that you put the tick in a sealed container and send it to Public Health England’s Tick Recording Scheme. Remember it’s good to wear gloves to stay on the safe side!
How do you treat to wound after?
Well you should always clean the wound (no brainer right?) Wash your hands with warm water and soap. We’d also recommend some sort of antiseptic wipes, this will help prevent any subsequent infection.
Can you stop Ticks from biting in the first place?
Yes, well mostly. There are sprays and powders which you can use of your dogs as well as anti-tick-medication.
Really though if you are going to be walking through woodland or long grasses you should be routinely checking for Ticks. Pay close attention to ears, face, eyes, legs, and belly. Ticks favour warm, safe nooks and crannies.
DO start by cleansing the tweezers/tool with antiseptic. After tick removal, cleanse the bite site and the tool with antiseptic.
DO wash hands thoroughly before and afterwards to help prevent infection.
DO save the tick in a container in case a doctor asks for evidence that you have been bitten (label it with date and location). Do also send the Tick to the Tick Recording Scheme.
DO NOT squeeze the body of the tick, as this may cause the head and body to separate, leaving the head embedded in your skin.
DO NOT use your fingernails to remove a tick. Infection can enter via any breaks in your skin including by nails.
DO NOT crush the tick’s body, as this may cause it to regurgitate its infected stomach contents into the bite wound. This isn’t ideal.
DO NOT try to burn the tick off (this will more likely hurt you and/or your pet), apply petroleum jelly, nail polish or any other chemical. Any of these methods can cause discomfort to the tick, resulting in regurgitation.