Ticks are more than annoying – they can be a health risks! They’re known for carrying several diseases that affect people and pets. In fact, Lyme disease, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and Rocky Mountain spotted fever are just a couple of the horrible-sounding things that can be transmitted through the bite of an infected deer tick, lone star tick or American dog tick. (These three species are responsible for the majority of tick-transmitted diseases to humans.)

Feeding deer tick

Ticks attach to your skin and feed for several days before falling off.

Photo Credit: ©2007 Buglady Consulting

Deer tick bite

When a deer tick is removed, it may leave a red spot like this.

Photo Credit: ©2007 Buglady Consulting

The good news is that only a low percentage of ticks are actually infected. What’s more is that an infected tick must remain attached to its host for hours before disease transmission can occur. For example, deer ticks infected with Lyme disease have to be connected to a person for at least 36 hours before the germs move from the tick to the human. (Note also that ticks don’t actually “bite.” Rather, they pierce the skin with a daggerlike mouthpart – the hypostome – and sip blood for several days before they pull out and drop off.)

It’s critical to remove ticks promptly and correctly, should you ever find one on you or a loved one. Because ticks may pass disease microbes through their fluids, the tick should not be squeezed, crushed or killed while affixed to a person. And never use solvents, cigarettes, fingernail polish, petroleum jelly or matches to kill the tick or make it “back out.”

Instead, use a pair of fine-tipped tweezers or forceps to grab the tick close to the point of attachment. Tilt the tweezers to get a secure grip. Pull back with steady, gentle pressure. The tick should detach after this miniature game of tug-of-war.

You can drop the vanquished tick into a jar of very soapy water to kill it. Wash the bite site, then put antiseptic on the wound. Occasionally, a tick’s mouthpart will break off and remain under the skin, but don’t fret too much – it won’t transmit a disease. The hypostome should work itself out of the skin in a little time, but do wash this area and attend to it several times so the site doesn’t become infected. If you have any questions or concerns, contact your doctor immediately.

It’s also wise to circle the calendar date when the tick was removed. Should a tick-borne disease symptom appear, the date of onset could help your doctor with diagnosis and subsequent treatment.

So watch out for ticks, and remove them properly if you ever find one. While most ticks aren’t infected with disease, some are – so why take the risk? Get that tick off!