We’ve learnt to be a fairly prepared lot. We have aloe vera for sunburn and Stingose for mossie bites. But when it comes to those bloodsucking parasites – aka ticks – many of us instinctively reach for the tweezers.
However, according to new research, attempting to pull out an embedded tick – either with tweezers or fingers – is the worse thing you can do.
“In the past there's been a whole range of 'urban myths' — substances you need to put on ticks to remove them, everything from a lighted match to kerosene to nail polish remover," Dr Cameron Webb, a medical entomologist at NSW Health Pathology Westmead Hospital told ABC Online.
"The problem is that will just make the tick agitated, and the more agitated it is, the more likely it is to inject saliva and toxin into the bite site.
"Even worse is if you try to remove a tick with your fingers, you're actually just squeezing it and potentially squeezing more toxin into yourself," he said.
So what is the best way to remove a tick?
Experts from Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy advise that you should kill the tick first, while it is still embedded in your skin.
To kill the tick, use an ether-containing spray, such as Wart-Off Freeze or Elastoplast Cold Spray. Give it a second spray after a minute, then allow the tick to drop off naturally after around 24 hours.
Seek medical help if you can't safely remove the tick.
What about my pet?
It is permissible to use tweezers to remove ticks from cats and dogs. Talk to your vet about the right tick prevention and treatment for pets.
What should I do if I have an allergic reaction?
Adult ticks cause the majority of health problems in humans, ranging from minor itching to severe allergic reactions (anaphylaxis). If you are allergic to ticks, you should carry emergency medication, like an EpiPen, and a mobile phone, so you can seek urgent medical attention.
If you are developing an allergic reaction to a tick for the first time, you should also seek medical attention.
What is Mammalian Meat Allergy?
Some people who have been bitten by a tick can develop a Mammalian Meat Allergy (or MMA). Sufferers can be severely allergic to meat, and sometimes other animal products such as dairy and gelatin.
How to prevent tick bites
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy offers the following measures to reduce the risk of tick bite:
- Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when walking in areas where ticks occur;
- Tuck shirt into trousers;
- Tuck trouser legs into long socks;
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat;
- Wear light-coloured clothes, which makes it easier to see ticks;
- Brush clothing before coming inside to remove ticks;
- Undress and check for ticks daily, checking carefully in the neck and scalp;
- An insect repellent may help, particularly ones containing DEET (e.g. RID®, Tropical RID®, Tropical Aerogard®, Bushmans®);
- Consider using permethrin-treated clothing when exposed to tick habitat (e.g. gardening in tick endemic areas); and
- In those with recurrent dangerous allergic reactions to tick bites, relocating to an area where ticks are not endemic is an option to consider.