Ticks: A-to-Z Guide from Diagnosis to Treatment to Prevention

Ticks are a family of bloodsucking arachnids. They are related to mites, such as those that cause scabies, but are larger.

The possibility of tick-borne illnesses such as Lyme disease, Colorado tick fever, and other arboviruses, gives a sense of urgency to the topic of ticks.

What are ticks?

Ticks are a family of bloodsucking arachnids. They are related to mites, such as those that cause scabies, but are larger. They are related to spiders, but have shorter legs.

Ticks attach themselves to warm-blooded animals to feed. In doing so, they spread diseases from the blood of one animal to another.

People suggest many methods for removing ticks: applying rubbing alcohol, smothering with Vaseline, painting with fingernail polish, twisting clockwise (or counterclockwise), and touching with a hot match.

Though these methods are popular, they are not the best. They can even increase the risk of disease.

Who gets ticks?

People and animals who spend time outdoors in woods or tick-infested areas are most likely to be bitten by ticks. Generally, children are more likely to be bitten than adults.

What are the symptoms?

The tick bite is often painless, so that the tick is only noticed in a reasonable amount of time if someone checks for ticks after returning from a tick-infested area.

Are ticks contagious?

Ticks can spread many different contagious diseases. Ticks move from one warm-blooded animal to the next in order to feed.

How long do they last?

Lyme disease is most likely to spread when the tick has been feeding for at least 36 hours. Ticks will tend to remain in place at least that long unless discovered and removed.

How are ticks diagnosed?

An attached tick may be discovered accidentally or when someone searches for them intentionally. The tick may be well hidden in hairy parts of the body.

How are they treated?

Use tweezers to grasp the tick as near to the mouthparts and as close to the skin as possible. Pulling perpendicular to the skin, use gentle, steady force to remove the tick. The site should then be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with alcohol or another disinfectant.

The tick can be killed by soaking it in rubbing alcohol or flushing it down the toilet. It should not be crushed or squeezed. Hands should be washed afterwards. Check with your pediatrician or local health department to see if they want to collect the tick for monitoring purposes.

How can ticks be prevented?

Tick bites may be prevented by protective clothing, insect repellants, and by making wise choices for outings.

Prolonged tick bites may be prevented by carefully inspecting children and their pets when they return from spending time in a potentially tick-infested area.

Prompt and complete removal of ticks does help prevent illness. This is a situation where the folk remedies can do more harm than good.


Last medical review on: January 07, 2014
About the Author
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Dr. Greene is a practicing physician, author, national and international TEDx speaker, and global health advocate. He is a graduate of Princeton University and University of California San Francisco.
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