How to Check For and Remove Ticks Before Infections


An American dog tick, which can infect your child with Rocky Mountain spotted fever if it bites him.
An American dog tick, which can infect your child with Rocky Mountain spotted fever if it bites him. Photo courtesy of CDC.

If you are going to be spending any time outdoors during the Spring and Summer, it is important to learn to protect your family from diseases that can be caused by ticks, including:

Unfortunately, no matter how careful you are in trying to protect your kids from tick bites, you may occasionally find a tick on your child and you will need to remove it.

Removing a tick quickly is important, because the longer it is attached to your child, the more likely that your child will get infected with one of the tick borne illnesses described above.

You don't usually have to save the tick you have removed though, unless you need some help to identify what type of tick it is.

Daily Tick Checks

After a hike in a woods would be a good time for a tick check.
Daily tick checks are a good idea when your kids have been hiking. Vincent Iannelli, MD

You can try to protect your family from tick bites by:

  • avoiding ticks when outdoors by sticking to trails, not sitting on the ground, and not walking in grassy, brushy, or heavily wooded areas
  • having kids wear protective clothing, including light colored clothing (so you can see ticks crawling on you) and pants that you can easily tuck into their socks
  • using an insect repellent with DEET on your child's skin

Daily Tick Check

Just as importantly, you should check your child for ticks after they have been playing outdoors in areas that are possibly infected with ticks. Be sure to check your child's ankles, hair, under their arms, and around their waist. Don't forget to check other spots where a tick might go unnoticed, such as between their legs, behind their knees, in their ears, and inside their belly button.

A daily tick check is especially important if you are on an extended camping trip and your kids might not be able to take a bath or shower each day.

Removing a Tick

Once you find a tick, it is important to know how to remove it. The longer the tick stays attached to your child, especially if it is longer than 48 hours, the more likely that your child is going to get sick with something like Lyme disease.

To get ready to remove the tick, you should have:

  • fine tweezers
  • gloves or a tissue so that you can avoid touching the tick
  • a small jar where you can put the tick (this makes identification easier in case your child gets sick)
  • an antiseptic to clean the area of the tick bite and your hands after you remove it

Grabbing the Tick

How to Grab a Tick
How to Grab a Tick. CDC

As demonstrated in the picture above, you should use your tweezers to grab the tick as close as possible to your child's skin.

Pulling the Tick Out

Pulling the Tick Out
Pulling the Tick Out. CDC

After using your tweezers to grab the tick as close as possible to your child's skin, you should gently pull it straight up.

Be sure to avoid making any jerking or twisting movements as you pull it out, or you may cause the tick's head to break off. If you do notice that any part of the tick has remained embedded in your child's skin, be sure to call your pediatrician for help getting it out.

As you pull the tick out, you should also avoid squeezing the tick.

Things to Avoid when Removing Ticks

Tick ID Carriers
Saving a tick can help with identification. Photo by Stephen Chernin/Stringer/Getty Images

Remember to use a tweezer to remove a tick on your child.

You should not try to remove it with your fingers.

Also, when removing a tick, you should:

  • avoid trying to burn the tick off with a match
  • not try to smother the tick with nail polish, vaseline, or other products
  • not forget to mention the tick bite to your pediatrician if your child gets sick soon after getting bit by a tick, especially if within 1 or 2 weeks, he develops a rash, fever, chills, headache, fatigue, or swollen glands
  • not leave the tick's head stuck in your child's skin
  • not squeeze the tick as you try to remove it

What about saving the tick to get it tested for Lyme disease?

While saving the tick can be helpful to help identify what type of tick actually bit your child, actually getting the tick tested isn't usually recommended. It might sound like a good idea, but even if the tick tested positive, that doesn't mean that your child got infected. You may have gotten the tick off in time. And if the tick tests negative, that doesn't guarantee that your child won't get sick.

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