Ticks are tiny insects: At less than 3/8 inch long, they are smaller than the end of a pencil. But when they bite a person or animal to feed on the blood, they can swell up to become as big as a large grape. And even though its bite can be very dangerous, you are unlikely to feel the tick crawling across your skin or gorging on your blood! That's why early detection and removal of ticks are so important. When you find a tick on your or your pet's skin, remove it carefully to reduce the risk of disease.
Ticks Spread Disease
One of the most dangerous ticks is also the smallest: the deer tick, also called the black-legged tick, which is found across the northeastern and upper midwestern United States. Even when fully engorged from feeding, the deer tick is only 1/4 mm—approximately 1/100 inch. This tick carries and transmits the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, which can have very serious health effects if not caught and treated early. Other diseases that can result from tick bites include ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and tularemia.
However, according to WebMD, most ticks do not carry diseases, so you are unlikely to have serious health issues if you are bitten. But it is still very important to remove a tick as soon as you find it because you cannot know whether a tick is infected or not. The sooner you remove the tick, the more likely you are to prevent the potential of illness from a disease-carrying tick. This is because a tick generally needs to be embedded in the skin for at least 24 hours to transmit a disease.
How to Remove a Tick
To remove a tick, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a 3-step process:
- Use tweezers to grasp the tick as close as possible to the surface of the person's or animal's skin.
- Pull up steadily and evenly with the tweezers. Don't twist or jerk the tick. If you do, the tick's mouth can break off from its body and stay embedded in the skin. If that does happen, use the tweezers to remove the mouth-parts as well. If you are unable to remove the mouth easily with clean tweezers, leave it alone and let the skin heal.
- Once the tick is removed, clean the area around the bite as well as your hands and the tweezers, using rubbing alcohol, iodine, or soap and water.
If a person who has been bitten by a tick develops a rash or fever at any time, even several weeks after removing the tick, CDC advises that he or she see a doctor. Tell the doctor about the bite, and when and where it most likely occurred.
Tick-Borne Disease Symptoms
The CDC also notes that most tick-borne diseases have similar signs and symptoms, with the most common being fever and chills, aches and pains, and rash.
Symptoms can also become more severe, even requiring hospitalization. But the sooner a disease is recognized and treated, the less likely there are to be serious complications. So if you are bitten by a tick and experience any adverse symptoms, you should immediately see your doctor.