Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab

How to Properly Remove a Tick

Spring in Utah brings rain to the mountain ranges. Moisture from spring rains and snowmelt creates perfect living conditions for ticks. For outdoor enthusiasts, traveling in the canyons this time of year could result in an unpleasant encounter with these hungry hitchhikers.

Ticks are tiny creatures with one apparent body segment, eight legs and large, protruding mouthparts used for sucking blood from an unsuspecting host. Ticks are not insects, but are closely related to spiders and mites.

There are two types of ticks: hard ticks (Ixodidae) and soft ticks (Argasidae). In Utah, hard ticks, especially the American Dog Tick and Rocky Mountain Wood Tick, are most often encountered. They lay their eggs on the ground, and the young ticks seek to feed on small mammals. Adult ticks more commonly feed on large mammals, including humans.

A tick’s life cycle can take months to years to complete, depending on environmental conditions and the availability of food. If a tick cannot find food, it will retreat to the leaf litter and remain dormant until conditions are favorable. Ticks are hardy and can last months to years without feeding. In Utah, adult ticks are most likely encountered between March and early-to-mid-July, but are worst during the rainy season. They go dormant when it is hot and dry.

Consider these tips to avoid coming in contact with ticks:

  • Avoid areas where ticks and their food sources are abundant, i.e., grassy and bushy areas along the edges of woodlands and fields, from March to mid-July.
  • Apply tick repellant to clothing before entering tick habitat.
  • Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Tuck shirts into pants and pants into socks. While this is helpful, ticks are still capable of finding their way beneath clothing. Wear light-colored clothes to make it easier to detect and remove ticks.
  • Conduct tick checks. Ticks usually take a few hours or more to find a feeding location and insert their mouthparts. Frequent examinations for ticks on the body can keep them from beginning to feed. Ticks are small, so check everywhere on your body, including armpits, waistline, belly button, scalp and crotch areas.

There are many suggested methods for tick removal, but to greatly reduce your chance of contracting a tick-borne disease, there is only one way to remove it, as outlined by Intermountain Health Care.

To remove larger ticks:

  • Use tweezers and grasp the tick as closely to the skin as possible, targeting the mouthparts. If tweezers are not available, use a loop of thread around the mouthparts or a needle between the mouthparts.
  • Carefully pull the tick straight upward without twisting or crushing it. Use steady pressure until it releases. Crushing or squeezing a tick can cause it to regurgitate stomach contents into your blood stream, which can transmit tick-borne diseases.

For smaller ticks:

  • Scrape the tick with a knife blade or credit card edge, being careful not to cut yourself.
  • After removal, place tick in a sealed container in case your doctor wants to see it.

General treatment:

  • If the head accidentally breaks off and remains in your skin, clean the area around the bite and use a sterile needle to carefully lift or scrape the head from the skin.
  • Wash the wound and your hands with soap and water after removal. Apply an over-the-counter antibiotic ointment to help reduce the chance of catching a tick-borne or secondary infection.
  • Tick removal methods other than those mentioned above should not be used. Despite their claims, they increase the chance that a tick will regurgitate disease-containing saliva into your body.

Removing ticks before they feed is ideal for avoiding tick-borne diseases. In Utah, there are very few confirmed cases of Lyme disease. Additionally, ticks in the Rocky Mountain Region have not been shown to carry this disease. Western ticks can carry other diseases, such as Colorado Tick Fever and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. If you are bitten by a disease-carrying tick, expect to experience symptoms in about seven days. If a tick has fed on you, it is best to consult a doctor for treatment. Some diseases are bacterial and treatable, while some are non-treatable viruses. Different ticks carry different diseases, so be sure to save the tick and have it identified. This can be done at the Utah Plant Pest Diagnostic Lab, 5305 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322. Visit www.utahpests.usu.edu for further information.