Insects are capable of spreading many diseases, but very few are actually caused by the insects themselves. Instead, other organisms are passed through saliva when a person is bitten. These tiny organisms can range from bacteria to viruses to protozoa. Unfortunately, their presence in insects is one reason why people have become so acutely aware of pests such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, as well as the diseases that may be contracted through their bites.
What Is Lyme disease?
Ticks are small arachnids that require a blood meal in order to survive and reproduce. Although small, a tick’s bite can lead to a multisystem inflammatory disease known as Lyme disease. If left untreated, the bacterium will move through the bloodstream, establishing itself in a range of body tissues, and causing a number of symptoms, some of which can be severe.
According to the American Lyme Disease Foundation (ALDF), Lyme disease is now the most common anthropod-borne illness in the U.S. However, don’t panic. A tick bite does not necessarily mean a person will develop Lyme disease. Many of these pests are not infected, and some studies indicate that it may require 36-48 hours or more for transmission to occur from an attached tick. With that being said, knowing where you will encounter them, how to protect yourself, and how to properly perform a tick removal are all important variables in prevention.
Where are ticks found?
Although found throughout the country, Lyme disease is especially prevalent in the northeast and upper mid-west regions of the United States where deer (black-legged) ticks are found. These areas have a high number of white-footed mice and deer, which are deer ticks’ preferred hosts, and can be found living in close proximity to humans.
Who is at risk?
Ticks favor an environment that is moist and shaded with overgrown trees, but they can also be found in dense shrubs or long grass. Ticks are therefore often found along wooded trails and within the brush and tall grasses that grow between fields and forests. Spending any amount of time outdoors places you at risk for becoming a host for ticks and in need of tick removal. Taking an afternoon run, doing yard work, or even just playing with your dog can lead to a tick bite. Since ticks seek out the blood of all mammals, not just humans, it’s possible for pets to bring ticks into the house as well.
Important tick bite facts
Ticks attach firmly to the skin and begin to draw blood for their meal. This is a painless process; oftentimes, a tick bite causes no harm and the tick goes on its way without the host becoming aware of the incident, which is why most people don’t even notice them. Therefore, it’s essential to check yourself and your pets after spending time outdoors. To reduce the risk of contracting a blood-borne pathogen such as Lyme disease, it’s important to know how to perform a proper tick removal, should one be discovered.
There are a few vital pieces of information to know before attempting tick removal. First and foremost, it’s important to remove the tick completely. Improper tick removal may cause mouthparts to tear off from the tick and remain imbedded within the skin. This could then lead to either infection or the formation of a granuloma (collection of inflamed or dead cells and tissue) at the removal site. Lastly, avoid twisting the body of the tick during the removal process because this could cause the tick’s potentially infectious body fluids to escape into the bloodstream.
How to remove a tick
- Always wear latex gloves when performing tick removal. Ticks should never be handled with bare hands.
- Use a pair of thin-tipped, tapered tweezers, which will allow for a more precise grasp of the pest.
- Be careful not to crush or squeeze the tick, which could result in the release of potentially contaminated saliva or potential pathogens into the bloodstream.
- Grab from the base of the tick and as close to the skin as possible. Doing so will increase the chances that the tick is removed entirely.
- With steady and even pressure applied to the tweezers, pull the tick straight upward.
- Immediately cleanse the affected skin with mild soap and water. A topical antibiotic may also be applied.
- Once the tick removal is complete, examine the area to ensure that no part of the tick has been left behind. Black specks at the bite site suggest that part of the tick may still be embedded. If this happens, put rubbing alcohol on a cotton ball and tape to the skin where the tick is and leave on for 10 minutes. If this fails and parts of the pest still remain, seek medical attention.
- Dispose of the tick as you would hazardous waste. If kept for reference, preserve the body in a small jar filled with alcohol. If a tick is to be tested for Lyme disease organisms, place the tick in a small vial or jar with a blade of grass to keep it alive.
Tick removal – what not to do
- Do not apply any chemicals, ointments or lotions to the tick before attempting the tick removal.
- Do not twist the tweezers during the removal process because of the risk of tearing the mouth parts from the tick’s body.
- Do not try to burn the tick out with a match. It’s more likely that you will injure the host and still need to attempt another tick removal.
- Do not use finger nail polish to try to remove a tick. Finger nail polish in the bloodstream can be hazardous.
Follow these tick removal steps and keep a close eye on the site of the tick bite as well as the victim’s health. Some minor redness and irritation is to be expected. Regularly clean the area and use a hydrocortisone spray or cream at the site to help minimize irritation.
As with other pest-related incidents, prevention is the best answer. Some circumstances, such as walking public trails, pose risks which are beyond your control so try to wear light colored, long-sleeved shirts and pants when walking them. Make sure to secure the bottom of your pants so that the ticks don’t have an access path to your skin. You can also use a tick repellant spray on your clothing, specifically on your arms and lower body.
Tick infestations can be treated and prevented, but effective control can be challenging. Your veterinarian can offer tick control medications and products for your pets, while a qualified pest management professional can recommend strategies and treatments for your yard. Ask about their Tick Protection Programs and what recommendations they have for effectively protecting your home and family from these pesky critters.
Modern Pest Services has been providing fast, effective pest control solutions throughout New England since 1945. If you’re having issues with ticks, contact us at 1-800-323-7378 and learn how you can get $25 off your first tick service.