The Best Way to Unstick a Tick

HYANNIS – Forget about fire, ice, goo or any other old tales you’ve heard about removing a tick that’s bitten you. There’s a simple way to get the job done, according to Larry Dapsis, an entomologist and the Tick Project coordinator for Cape Cod Cooperative Extension.

“The preferred method is using pointy tweezers, not big fat tweezers, because you don’t want to crush the tick,” he said. “You will not give yourself Lyme disease, but you might give yourself a nasty infection.”

Using the tweezers, grasp the tick by its head, as close to your skin as you can get.

“Just gently pry straight up,” he said. “You don’t have to rip it out at 100 miles per hour. Use gentle upward pressure and that thing will pop out.”

Despite what some people think, the head of the tick is not embedded in your skin. Ticks have a long beak that’s attached to you.

And despite another old myth, you shouldn’t rotate the tick as you pull on its head.

“If you twist, it will break the beak off,” said Dapsis. “But if you do, that’s inconsequential. People will call me in a panic because they still see the beak inside the skin and they’re flipping out. ‘Should I go to the emergency room and have a doctor dig it out?’

“The beak, once it’s separated from the tick’s head, is no worse than a wood splinter. Don’t fret if you can’t get that part out. Apply a little Neosporin and it will dissolve.”

You should use the same simple technique, whether you’re removing a tick from a child, a pet or child or yourself, he said.

Preserve For Testing

Avoid the old myths like a flaming match or Vaseline.

“If you put a match to that tick, you’ve now burned evidence,” said Dapsis, “You can’t test that tick.”

Vaseline also will muck up the ability to test the tick.

“The less you do to mess up the tick, the better,” he said.

There’s mixed evidence on whether you can wash an attached tick off in the shower, he said.

“I tell people the reason to take a shower is that stripping down is another opportunity for a tick check.”

Once you’ve removed the tick, the next step is to get it tested. Place the tick in a zip-lock plastic bag. Go to www.TickReport.com and fill out an online submission form. You’ll be assigned a work order number; write that on the baggy or on a piece of paper that you place inside the baggy.

Then put the labeled tick in an envelope and mail it to:

Laboratory of Medical Zoology

Fernald Hall, University of Massachusetts

270 Stockbridge Rd.

Amherst, MA 01003

Results of the tick test will be sent to you in three or fewer business days.

The tick test costs $15 if you’re a Barnstable county resident.

“Cape Cod Healthcare has been generous in subsidizing the cost of tick testing because they’re seeing value in getting data on what people were potentially exposed to,” said Dapsis.

If you’re not feeling well and you go to the doctor’s office with your tick report, it takes the guesswork out of the diagnosis, according to Dapsis.

“It gives doctors a much better idea of what they should be looking for in their patient’s clinical presentation.”

Go to the Cape Cod Cooperative Extension web site for more information about tick safety and tick testing.

By BILL O’NEILL, Cape Cod Health News

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