Expert Advice

What should I do if I find a tick on my skin?

In the Shenandoah Valley, ticks are often found on tall grass and shrubby undergrowth. Ticks do not jump or fly, so physical contact is the only way for them to attach to you. Check your body thoroughly after spending time outdoors, especially if you were walking through this kind of vegetation.

Ticks feed by attaching to human or animal hosts and drawing blood. While the majority of tick bites will be harmless, there is a possibility that a tick can pass on disease. Therefore, if you find a tick attached to your skin, you should remove it as soon as possible. Fortunately, removing ticks is a fairly simple and straightforward process.

Use fine-tipped tweezers to first grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible; then pull upward with even pressure. Avoid twisting or jerking the tick, as this can cause parts of the insect to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, try to remove the parts with clean tweezers. If you are unable to pick out all the tick parts, leave the skin to heal, as the remaining parts do not pose a threat to your health.

After removing the tick, clean the area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and warm water. If the tick is still alive, dispose of it by submersing it in rubbing alcohol, sealing it in a bag or in tape and throwing it away, or flushing it down the toilet. Never try to crush it with your fingers.

It’s important to keep an eye on the bite area after the tick is removed. If you notice a rash developing — specifically in the shape of a target — consult with your doctor immediately. This could be a sign that the tick passed on Lyme disease.

Besides the rash, symptoms of Lyme disease and tick-borne illnesses include fever or chills, aches, pains, nausea and inflammation. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart and the nervous system. The sooner Lyme disease is treated, the quicker the recovery. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with one to two weeks of antibiotics. Following treatment, some people experience some residual symptoms that usually improve gradually over time. Longer courses of antibiotics unfortunately do not help with Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome.