In the summer months, with the warmer weather and longer daylight hours, ticks are out in full swing looking for their next meal. Normally, ticks like to feed on small rodents, cattle animals, and deer; however, if a human happens to make it into their area, they’ll latch on and feed without any issue. The problem is that some ticks carry infectious diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rickettsia.
Taking precautions against being bitten by a tick is the first line of defense against the harmful infections they carry. Wearing light-colored, baggy clothes and wearing a bug spray with DEET are both helpful ways to prevent a bite. However, even the most tick-conscious people can fall victim to these dangerous little creatures. If you do happen to find a tick on you after spending some time in the great outdoors, it’s important that you know how to properly remove the tick, and what to do with it to get it tested for disease.
Do all ticks carry disease?
Although there is a good number of ticks that carry disease, not all of them do. The tick most commonly associated with Lyme disease, for example, is the blacklegged tick. But even though this type of tick often spreads Lyme disease, that doesn’t mean the entire population has the bacteria.
But here’s the thing: it’s impossible to tell if the tick you found on your body is infected or not just by looking at it. And with the long-term health effects of Lyme disease, you won’t want to take any chances. That’s why, if you find a tick on you after being outdoors, you need to know how to remove it safely and how to submit it to the proper medical authorities for testing to help diagnose a potential case of Lyme disease.
Should you save a tick for testing?
If possible, you should always try to save a tick for testing. Not only can it help you if you develop symptoms of an infection, it can also help the authorities track and monitor tick activity in your area. This information can go a long way toward informing the public of possible threats as well as keeping the numbers of Lyme disease cases down. (Note that removing ticks within 24–36 hours may also give you a better chance at preventing infection.)
The first step in saving a tick is knowing how to remove it properly. You can’t just rip the tick out of your body, especially because of how small and buried into the skin they are. To remove a tick safely:
- Use clean tweezers
- Grasp at the tick’s head as close to the skin as you can possibly get
- Once you have a good hold, slowly pull the tick straight out, making sure you don’t twist or crush it when pulling
- If any parts get left behind, remove those with the tweezers as well
- Once the tick is fully removed, thoroughly wash the area and your hands
Once the tick is removed, grab a sealed container and put it inside. You will want to mark the date on the container as well as the location where you received the bite. The area of your body where the tick was attached should also be noted, as well as any symptoms if they develop.
Can you send a dead tick for testing?
Ticks can be sent for testing both alive and dead; however, living ticks are better because the tests can be done quicker and the results are more reliable. To keep a tick alive for testing, you can add leaves and some moisture to the bottom of the container. Because a tick cannot survive for long periods of time in a household environment, making its new home as hospitable as possible will help prolong its life so it can be tested. If the tick is alive, you can store the container in the refrigerator for up to 10 days.
Should you put a tick in the freezer?
The only time you should put a tick in the freezer is if it’s already dead, because low temperatures will kill a living tick. Dead ticks can still be sent in for testing, but live ones are better. Some medical authorities will only test living ticks, whereas others may only accept dead ones.
When it’s time to submit your tick for testing, store it on a damp paper towel or cotton swab in a sealed bag, or securely attach it to a piece of paper with some tape. Just be sure that if the tick is alive, there is some moisture. There are many tick-testing organizations in the country that can help determine if the tick that bit you has Lyme or any other diseases. They are often private or independent laboratories. While some offer mail-in services, it’s best to find one that is local so you can have the tick transported quickly.
Getting bitten by a tick can be a scary experience if you’re aware of the consequences of Lyme disease, but even if you’re not at risk of developing Lyme, you should always preserve the tick for testing.
Featured image by Victor Grabarczyk on Unsplash