Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.
Unfortunately, many people think they know how to remove ticks, but most common tick-removal methods
result in increasing the chances of infection. The greatest concern in removing a tick is the possible transmission of disease. Methods of removal that stimulate the tick to spit out even small amounts of their blood meal, or to pass infected saliva back into the host, may increase the likelihood of disease transmission.
Commonly used methods such as a hot match head touched to the hind parts of the tick, to covering or "painting" the tick with paint, nail polish, petroleum jelly, or gasoline, may cause additional injury to the host (humans, dogs, cats) as well as stimulate the tick to produce more pathogen-containing secretions into the bite site.
All of the head and mouthparts of the tick should be removed. Because the tick is attached firmly to most hosts, rough or improper handling may result in portions of the head and mouthparts remaining embedded in the skin. This can be a site of infection and inflammation and might increase the likelihood of transmitting disease.
How to remove a tick
Use a small pair of curved forceps or tweezers. Wear some sort of hand protection such as gloves so you don't spread pathogens from the tick to your hands.
Using the tweezers, carefully flip the tick over onto its back. Grasp the tick firmly with the tweezers as close to the skin as possible. Apply gentle pulling until the tick comes free. Twisting or turning the tick does not make removal easier because the mouthparts are barbed; in fact, such actions may break off the head and mouthparts, thereby increasing the chances for infection. The illustration below from the U.S. CDC (Figure
5) shows the proper technique for removal of a tick.
Figure 5: The proper technique for tick removal. Source: CDC
Once removed, don't crush the tick because you may transmit disease. Rinse it down a sink or flush it down a toilet. Consider keeping it in a tightly closed jar or taped to a piece of paper. Show the tick to the doctor if you become ill from the tick bite.
The area of the bite should leave a small crater or indentation where the head and mouthparts were embedded. If portions of the head or mouthparts remain, they should be removed by a doctor.
Thoroughly cleanse the bite area with soap and water or a mild disinfectant. Observe the area for several days for development of a reaction to the bite, such as a rash or signs of infection. Apply
first-aid antibiotic cream to the area. Application of an antibiotic to the area may help prevent a local infection but usually does not affect the chance of developing diseases transmitted by the tick.
Remember to wash hands thoroughly after handling any tick or instruments that touched a tick. Clean and disinfect any instruments that were used.