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Medicine for the Outdoors
Medicine for the Outdoors

Dr. Paul Auerbach is the world's leading outdoor health expert. His blog offers tips on outdoor safety and advice on how to handle wilderness emergencies.

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Tick Removal

After reading my last blog about acquiring Lyme disease from a (presumed) tick bite, a few people have asked me, what is the correct way to remove a tick if it is embedded in a person or pet? With a rising incidence of tick-borne diseases, it’s important to know the answer to this question.

The correct way to remove a tick is to grasp it close to its mouthparts with tweezers or with your fingernails (cover your fingers with tissue paper, gloves, or a thin cloth) and pull it out with a slow and steady motion. There are also V-shaped tick removal devices that are designed to slide between the tick and the skin to trap the tick and allow it to be pulled free. Don’t twist the tick. Don’t touch the tick with a hot object (e.g., extinguished match head) or cover it with anything that will cause it to struggle, since that might cause the tick to regurgitate infectious fluid into the bite site. If the tick head is buried in the skin, you can apply permethrin (Permanone insect repellent), which is an insecticide, using a cotton swab, to the upper and lower body surfaces of the tick. After about 10 minutes, the tick will relax and you can pull it free. After you remove a tick, look for remaining parts, and scrape them free with a knife edge or needle. Then wash the area well and apply a dab of antiseptic (e.g., bacitracin) ointment. If the area swells a bit, this is not necessarily worrisome, since ticks have salivary substances that cause a bit of a skin reaction, which may last for a week or two. However, if an infection develops or if the lump doesn’t go away, seek medical attention.

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About the Author

Dr. Paul S. Auerbach is the world’s leading authority on wilderness medicine.

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