Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2002;66(4):646

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

It is important to remove the tick as soon as possible. Use the following steps:

  1. If possible, clean the area with an antiseptic solution or soap and water. Take care not to scrub the tick too hard. Just clean the skin around it.

  2. Use blunt tweezers or gloved fingers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible.

  3. Gently pull the tick straight away from the skin.

  4. If the tick's head breaks off in the skin, use tweezers to remove it like you would as splinter.

  5. If you live where tick diseases are common, save the tick in a small bottle of rubbing alcohol. Your doctor can check it to see what kind of tick it is and what kind of infection it might carry. Otherwise, flush it in the toilet. Wash your hands.

  6. Wash the area around the bite with antibacterial soap.

  7. Call your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.

Take care not to do the following:

  • Do not use sharp tweezers.

  • Do not crush, puncture, or squeeze the tick's body.

  • Do not use a twisting or jerking motion to remove the tick.

  • Do not handle the tick with bare hands.

  • Do not try to make the tick let go by holding a hot match or cigarette close to it.

  • Do not try to smother the tick by covering it with petroleum jelly or nail polish.

Do I need to take an antibiotic?

Most people do not need an antibiotic. In most cases, ticks have to be attached to the body for 24 to 48 hours to transmit disease. However, you should see your doctor if you develop redness, swelling, pain, fever, or other symptoms after you are bitten by a tick.

How can I prevent tick bites?

  • If you spend a lot of time outdoors during tick season (mid-spring to mid-summer), check your body and scalp often for ticks.

  • Wear light-colored clothes that cover most of your skin when you go into the woods or an area overgrown with grass and bushes. This makes it easier to see ticks on your clothes. Wear a long-sleeved shirt and pants instead of shorts. Tuck the legs of your pants into your socks for added protection. Remember that ticks are usually found close to the ground, especially in moist, shaded areas.

  • Insect repellent containing the chemical DEET repels ticks. Be careful to follow the direction son the label, and do not apply more than recommended, especially on children.

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Copyright © 2002 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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