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Tick removal

I've been bitten by a tick – now what? In searching for an answer it is likely you will encounter all sorts of myths and dubious remedies, ranging from burning ticks to drowning them with oil. Be careful though, most of these methods can actually do more harm than good. Read our tips below to make sure that you are working with the real facts.

Removing a tick? There are several options available. One is to use a 'tweezer’.

Tick bite or tick sting?

Tick sting or tick bite?

Do ticks bite or sting? Although we speak of bites, they actually sting. Ticks cut a slit into the epidermis (top layer of skin) of a victim with sharp blade-like parts of their feeding apparatus before inserting their "stinger" (called a hypostome) into the tissue of the host.

Unlike other parasites, such as female mosquitos that only feed briefly on their hosts’ blood vessels, ticks prefer to attach themselves firmly to their victim for hours or even days. First they anchor themselves with their claws and the barbs around their feeding apparatus. Second, some tick species produce a kind of 'glue' 5-30 minutes after biting the host, which helps to adhere themselves firmly.

Why does a tick bite go unnoticed?

To ensure that its feeding goes unnoticed, the tick’s saliva contains a local anesthetic. Despite the tick’s stinger being much thicker and coarser than that of other parasites such as mosquitos, a tick bite does not hurt.

Quick removal is a must following a tick bite.

It is important to remove ticks as quickly as possible

If you discover a feeding tick on you, it is important to deal with it quickly. There is no need to cancel a hike or a walk straight away, just try not to wait too long before removing the tick. The longer the arachnid is allowed to feed, the greater the likelihood of infection with pathogens. Hikers should thus always carry a tick removal tool in their First Aid Kit – making rapid removal possible on the spot. An infection by the Borrelia bacteria that cause Lyme disease typically takes between 12 and 24 hours, as the bacteria need time to leave the tick's digestive system. By contrast, transmission of the TBE virus occurs immediately after a bite, because the virus sits in the tick’s salivary glands.

Helpful tips for the successful removal of ticks

If you have been bitten, you should consider the following advice:

  • Do not apply petrol, nail varnish remover or alcohol. These substances do not aid the removal of the tick – quite the reverse is true: they may increase the risk of infection e.g. by the bacteria that cause Lyme disease.
  • If you have a feeding tick on a part of your body you cannot reach, ask someone else to help you remove it.
  • Do not despair if you are unable to remove a tick with your first try. Several attempts are quite often needed to remove a feeding tick successfully.
  • In case you have found one tick, keep searching the rest of the body. It is very possible to be bitten by several ticks at once. Always check the whole body for tick bites – especially in areas where the parasites can hide out, like the abdomen and chest, the hollow of the knee, the neck and head, and in the groin region.
  • After removing the tick, disinfect the bite with alcohol or an ointment containing iodine.
  • If redness around the puncture site persists or expands, you should go see a doctor. The same applies if the site of the bite develops a large swelling, is painful, becomes hot or throbs.
  • If you are unsure how to remove a tick properly or about possible symptoms after a tick bite, visit your doctor.

How to remove a tick properly?

The successful removal of a feeding tick largely depends on three factors (Robisch, K. (2010). Tick Removal – Comparison of Five Different Tick Removal Devices. Diploma Thesis, Department of Pathobiology at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. University Library of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.):

  • The length and shape of the tick's feeding apparatus
  • The number of barbs on the "stinger" (hypostome)
  • The quantity of "glue" (cement) dispersed

The correct procedure depends on the type of tool used for tick removal. With any tool, it is important that the tick is clasped as closely to the skin as possible. This keeps you from squashing the arachnid and thereby releasing its potentially dangerous bodily fluids that may contain pathogens, into the wound. It is also best to remove the tick slowly and avoid any strong jerking actions. The golden rule for the procedure is to remove the tick slowly, with control, as close to the skin as possible.

What to do when the 'head' of the tick remains in the skin?

When removing a tick, it is possible that a remainder of the tick gets left behind in the skin. In such cases, it is usually not the “head of the tick”, but rather just a part of the stinging apparatus. After a while this small foreign object will be naturally rejected by the body, in most cases. The supposed “tick’s head” therefore represents no serious health risk.

Tools and treatments for the removal of ticks

It is recommended for people who spend a lot of time outdoors, to carry a tool for the quick removal of ticks. Among the most popular instruments for tick removal are:

 
Tweezers for tick removal should have a bent tip on the leading edge.

Tweezers

How to use them: It is critical to choose a suitable model: tweezers for tick removal should have a bent tip on the leading edge.

Removing a tick with tweezers.

1. Position the tweezers beside the tick as close to the skin as possible.
2. Close the tweezers around the tick’s stinger, being careful not to squash the body. Grip the tweezers firmly and carefully withdraw the tick vertically from the skin.

3. Dispose of the removed tick. Then monitor the puncture site, remembering the possibility of having contracted Lyme disease. If redness develops, see your doctor straight away!

Should pieces of the tick’s stinging apparatus remain in the skin, there is no reason to panic. The body will naturally reject them. Residents and visitors in TBE risk areas should be vaccinated against TBE.

Tick removal with a tick card: the tick is gripped in a v-shaped groove and removed by a forward and upward movement.

Tick card

How to use it: The tick is gripped in a v-shaped groove and removed by a forward and upward movement – the card thereby functions as a lever. Some models of tick cards have a variety of v-shaped groove sizes, to suit different sizes of ticks.

Removing ticks with a tick card.

1. Slide the card flat on the skin towards the tick. In so doing try to trap the tick in the “beak” of the card.
2. Continue the sliding motion without pausing, thereby removing the tick from the skin.

3. Dispose of the removed tick. Then monitor the puncture site, remembering the possibility of having contracted Lyme disease. If redness develops, see your doctor straight away!

Should pieces of the tick’s stinging apparatus remain in the skin, there is no reason to panic. The body will naturally reject them. Residents and visitors in TBE risk areas should be vaccinated against TBE.

The tick lasso: The loop of the lasso should be put around the tick with close contact to the skin

Tick lasso

How to use it: Lay the loop of the lasso on the skin closely around the tick and tighten the noose by releasing the spring on top of the device. Then remove the tick with a rotating and vertical lifting movement.

Removing a tick with a tick lasso.

1. Press the spring to release the lasso and carefully pass the loop over the tick against the skin.
2. Release the spring to tighten the loop, at the same time keeping the grip vertical and lightly pressed against the skin.

3. The rotating movement will disengage the barbs of the tick and help release it from the skin. The direction of rotation is not important.
4. Pull the tick out vertically. Then monitor the puncture site, remembering the possibility of having contracted Lyme disease. If redness develops, see your doctor straight away!

Should pieces of the tick’s stinging apparatus remain in the skin, there is no reason to panic. The body will naturally reject them. Residents and visitors in TBE risk areas should be vaccinated against TBE.

Got no tools? Use your finger nails.

Removal with finger nails

How to use them: Carefully grasp the tick with two fingers (best choice is the index finger and thumb) as close to the skin as possible. Be careful not to squash the tick! Then pull it out with a slight turning motion.

Removing a tick with the finger nails.

1. Take hold of the tick between the thumb and index (or middle) finger, as close to the skin as possible.
2. With gentle loosening movements left and right, pull the tick out vertically. Avoid squeezing the body of the tick.

3. Dispose of the removed tick.

Should pieces of the tick’s stinging apparatus remain in the skin, there is no reason to panic. The body will naturally reject them. Residents and visitors of TBE risk areas should be vaccinated against TBE. Then monitor the puncture site, remembering the possibility of having contracted Lyme disease. If redness develops, see your doctor straight away!

How to dispose of the tick once removed?

Following successful tick removal, many people ask themselves: What should I do with the tick? Researchers have undertaken a study on behalf of zecken.de on the best disposal methods of ticks. The following ways of killing ticks were investigated: mechanical methods such as crushing or squashing, killing with heat and the use of various liquids. The aim: to securely kill ticks without people coming into contact with the bodily fluids of a tick. Such contact could lead to an infection by transmission of pathogens found in the ticks – for example via a small wound.

Ticks should not be flushed down the toilet, because ticks can survive a relatively long time in water.

The outcome:
The most effective method found in tick endurance testing was crushing ticks with a solid object, such as a drinking glass. The tick should first be folded into a piece of paper and then crushed by rubbing a glass firmly over it against a solid surface. This method proved suitable in testing with adult ticks as well as nymphs (young ticks). Also effective at killing ticks were 40 percent alcohol, chlorine cleaner and Dettol® disinfectant. What proved ineffective however was treading them with a shoe or squashing them with a finger nail. You should never just flush ticks down the toilet, because tick testing showed that ticks can survive a fairly long time under water.