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July 17, 2005

BehindTheMedspeak: How to remove a tick


The most popular method continues to be exposing the tick to the open flame of a match.

But that may be the worst way to do it and the one most likely to result in transmission of a tick–borne infection such as Lyme disease.

Anahad O'Connor of the New York Times wrote the best, most concise and useful guide to tick removal I've yet to come across; it appeared in the July 12 Science section in his weekly columm entitled, "Really?"

    Here is the piece:

    THE CLAIM: Remove a Tick From Your Skin by Burning It

    THE FACTS: Ever notice a tiny speck on your skin and then discover that what looked like a piece of dirt was actually a tick?

    For most people, that moment is about the only time exposing an arm or a leg to an open flame can seem like a good idea.

    But while burning a tick into submission is probably the most popular removal method, studies show that it can also be the worst.

    Getting the tick out as quickly as possible is crucial, since the likelihood of contracting Lyme disease or another infection rises steeply after 24 hours.

    But traumatizing the insect with heat or too much force also carries the risk of making it regurgitate, further increasing the likelihood of infection.

    In 1996, a team of Spanish researchers studied 52 patients who sought treatment at a hospital after extracting a tick.

    They found that those who accomplished this by squeezing, crushing or burning the insects were far more likely to develop symptoms of Lyme disease or other complications than those who used the proper removal method: grasping the pest as close to the skin as possible with tweezers and then gently pulling it straight up.

    Any remaining pieces should be pulled out and the site should be cleaned with a disinfectant.

    Smothering Vaseline or nail polish on the tick also is a bad idea, since it can be hours before the tick dies from suffocation.

    As a precautionary step, some doctors recommend taking antibiotics to ward off infection.

    THE BOTTOM LINE: Never remove a tick by burning it.

A nice step–by–step guide — kind of a "Tick Removal For Dummies,"


illustrated with the photos in this post — appears here.

July 17, 2005 at 02:01 PM | Permalink


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