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Removing a Tick and Recognizing Lyme Disease

Ticks have received a lot of attention over the past several years. Being the transmitters of such deadly diseases as Rocky Mountain spotted fever and Lyme Disease, ticks are considered Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of many—especially those who live in the Rocky Mountains or in rural areas. Ticks are definitely a nuisance. Although Lyme Disease has become a serious epidemic in certain parts of the country (specifically Northern climes), most ticks are harmless. The key is to make sure that you completely remove any tick that attaches itself to you.


Never pull, pinch, tear, or crush a tick that has already embedded itself in the skin. By doing so, you run the risk of removing only the body and not the head, which can lead to infection.

You'll definitely know a tick when you see one (at least when one attaches itself to you). They are tiny and oval in shape, and they have leathery black or dark-brown skin. Unfortunately, they are not easily discernible when in their natural habitat: woods, trees, shrubs, deer, raccoons, and other forest creatures.

Instead of biting, ticks burrow. They dig into your skin head first, and then hang out, contentedly sucking on your blood. Of course, if you see the tick when it is on the surface of the skin but has not yet burrowed, you can quickly pick it up with your fingers and crush it dead. However, if the tick has already embedded itself in the skin getting it off of you can be somewhat tricky. Follow these steps to remove the tick:

Ticks are usually harmless.
Ticks are usually harmless.
  1. Force the tick to “let go” by covering it completely with Vaseline, rubbing alcohol, or even salad oil or liquor. The oil closes off its breathing holes, and the tick should let go within 30 minutes.
  2. Once the tick surrenders, pull it off the skin very carefully with tweezers.

Don't be embarrassed if you'd rather not get rid of the tick on your own. If you are at all fearful of accidentally leaving the head in the skin, take the person to a nearby walk-in or the emergency room for fast, efficient—and safe—removal.

If you wait the full 30 minutes, and the tick refuses to surrender, proceed with these steps:

  1. Using tweezers, turn the saturated tick counterclockwise to make it release from the skin, making sure you pick up all its pieces. (It should come out fairly easily because of the oil.)
  2. When the tick is out, wash the bite area thoroughly with soap and water.
  3. Check for other ticks on the body and scalp.

More on: First Aid


Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to First Aid Basics © 1996 by Stephen J. Rosenberg, M.D. and Karla Dougherty. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit Amazon's web site or call 1-800-253-6476.

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