Entomologist Marten Edwards shows the proper technique in removing ticks to help you lower the risk of contracting Lyme disease.
In this video, Muhlenberg College Entomologist Marten Edwards, Ph.D., breaks down the parts of a tick, explains the significance of a tick's saliva to feeding and spreading Lyme disease, and shows how to properly remove an embedded tick.
Bitten by a Tick? Here's What To Do.
Remove It: Use pointy tweezers to grasp the tick as close as possible to your skin's surface. Pull upward with steady pressure and avoid twisting or jerking it, which could cause some of the parts to break off in the skin. The video above shows you how, in detail.
Keep it: Tick expert Thomas Mather, director of the University of Rhode Island's Center for Vector-Borne Disease and TickEncounter Resource Center, recommends placing the tick in a Ziploc bag and writing down the date of removal so you can show your doctor if you develop Lyme symptoms. You can also send your tick to a lab to get it tested; tickencounter.org lists options.
Sanitize: After removal, disinfect the bite area and wash your hands with soap and water.
Identify it: Different kinds of ticks carry different pathogens, so you'll want to figure out the species that bit you. Mather's TickEncounter Resource Centersupplies photos to help you determine the type of tick and how long it might have been attached (ticks grow larger the longer they're attached). Mather encourages you to take a photo of the tick and submit it to his resource center, which monitors tick activity.
Seek medical attention: If you remove an adult blacklegged tick that was attached to your skin for two days or more, you have a high risk of contracting Lyme disease, says Mather. And so he recommends asking your doctor for a dose of the antibiotic doxycycline as a proactive measure. If a blacklegged tick was attached for less than a day, your risk of being infected is lower. But Mather still recommends saving the tick in case you begin feeling ill later. And of course, if you start to develop Lyme symptoms, see your doctor.
Avoid the Bite. Protect Yourself on Outdoor Runs.
Wear repellent: If you live in a high-risk area, Mather advises spraying your shoes and running shorts with clothing-specific repellents containing permethrin. A coating of permethrin is effective for a month on your shoes and through 70 washings on your clothes. Mather prefers permethrin over DEET, which loses effectiveness after 30 minutes.
Stay centered: If you're running on trails or a park path, stick to the center and away from the edges, where ticks tend to lurk. Ticks lie low in tall grasses (they're not hanging out in trees waiting to hop onto you).
Do tick checks: Strip off your running clothes and check your body for ticks as soon as you can after running outdoors. Ticks might land on your foot or ankle and migrate up. Pay particular attention to these areas: underarms, around the ears, inside the belly button, back of the knees, head, groin, waistline. Look for any freckles (ticks are that small) that seem unusual.
Common Misconceptions about Ticks
Myth #1: Lyme always presents itself with a bull's-eye rash.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 30 percent of people infected with Lyme disease don't get a rash. Whether or not someone develops a rash likely depends on differences within individual immune systems, Mather says. And if a rash does appear, it doesn't always take a bull's-eye shape. Some research has shown that it more commonly appears as a red, raised region.
Myth #2: Trails are the only places where you are vulnerable to tick bites.
You could find a tick in your backyard, on suburban park paths, or on the side of a road. "My whole campaign these days is there are more ticks in more places than ever before," Mather says. Ticks feed on deer, and a higher white-tailed deer population in North America allows ticks to thrive and has resulted in more tick reproduction, Mather says. And as suburban communities spread into deer and mice habitats, the risk increases.
Myth #3: If you've been bitten by a tick, you'll get Lyme.
Only blacklegged ticks and western blacklegged ticks transmit Lyme (lone star ticks and American dog ticks do not). And even if one bites you, it must first be infected with the bacteria, Mather says. Blacklegged ticks are more aggressive in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, upper Midwest, and on the Pacific coast. What's more, Mather estimates that the tick must be attached for one to two-and-a-half days to give you the disease. If you spot it and remove it promptly, you'll likely avoid infection.
Myth #4: If you get Lyme, you'll suffer from long-term, chronic symptoms.
Not necessarily. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 10 to 20 percent of Lyme patients deal with symptoms that persist beyond six months. Identifying symptoms and getting treatment quickly is the best way to lower the chance you'll experience chronic issues. Mather, a marathon runner, tested positive for Lyme in 2002, but soon after beginning antibiotic treatment he finished a 10-mile race at 6:30-per-mile pace.
Myth #5: You can get Lyme from your four-legged running buddy.
Not exactly. If your dog contracts Lyme, you can't catch it from him, just like you can't catch it from a spouse or a running partner. But your dog could carry a tick into your house, where it may roam on the floor or on a couch—and then attach to you. "That's where your dog potentially presents an added issue," Mather says. He recommends treating your dogs with Advantix II or Frontline Tritak.
You can find our full report on how Lyme disease affects runners here. Be sure to also check out this behind-the-scenes look – including plenty of tick gathering, feeding, and magnifying – at the photos used in the feature.