Removing ticks

These are TAGS Recommendations, see Disclaimer.

Considerations

Humans

The larvae, nymphs and adult stages of the common Australian Paralysis Tick may all attach to humans. When choosing a method of removal one should consider tick size, tick location, strength of attachment, patient co-operation and the transmission of allergenic, toxic or infectious agents.

Allergic reactions: In individuals with a history of allergic reactions to tick bites, ticks should be removed as soon as possible, but only by a doctor and where resuscitation facilities are readily available. See also Allergic and Toxic Reactions in Humans.

Using chemicals: TAGS does not currently recommend killing adult ticks before removal by using alcohol, methylated spirits, salt, vegetable oil, nail polish remover or other substances as this might cause the tick to inject more toxins and bacteria. Whilst some sources claim that applying insecticides such as pyrethrin/pyrethroid (see http://medent.usyd.edu.au/fact/ticks.htm#remove) or repellents such as DEET is safe and effective, TAGS does not currently recommend doing this. TAGS does, however, condone the use of sodium bicarbonate (bicarb soda) to help remove infestation by multiple small larval-stage ticks (see table).

After Removal: If possible, save the tick in a sealed jar with a leaf or blade of grass. Label with the date removed and the locality where the tick was acquired. The tick can be identified later if you develop illness, especially in the following 4 weeks.

Pets

Because adult paralysis ticks have usually been attached for longer (days) by the time they are detected, paralysing toxins are the greatest threat in pets. These toxins begin to be produced after 2-3 days (at the earliest). It is important that the tick is prevented from injecting more toxins. Once the body of the tick is removed the source of toxins (the salivary glands) is also removed. Even if mouthparts are not fully removed these may be only a minor irritation - they are certainly not life threatening. Compressing the body of the tick may theoretically inject more salivary toxins.

Removal methods

Larvae Nymphs Adults
Sample Image (not necessarily typical appearance)
Unengorged Size* 0.5 x 0.4 mm 1.2 x 0.85 mm 2.6 x 1.1 - 3.8 x 2.6 mm
Engorged Size* 1.15 x 1.0 mm 3.5 x 2.5 mm 13.2 x 10.2 mm
Usual Numbers 10's-100's 1-5 1
Removal Difficulty Easiest Moderately difficult. Quite difficult.
Sometimes painful.
Allergens Yes Yes Yes
Toxins Paralysis unlikely Paralysis possible if multiple. Paralysis after 3-5 days (local or systemic)
Infections Australian Spotted Fever (ASF),
Flinders Is Spotted Fever (FISF)
Australian Spotted Fever (ASF),
Flinders Is Spotted Fever (FISF)
Lyme-like Disease?
Australian Spotted Fever (ASF),
Flinders Is Spotted Fever (FISF),
Lyme-like Disease,
Secondary tickbite infections (cellulitis).
Removal Methods If many: soak for 30 minutes in a bath with 1 cup of bicarb soda then scrape off.
If solitary: fine tweezers, or apply a paste of bicarb soda
Fine tweezers (preferably curved) - grasp tick firmly as close to skin as possible, then pull up.
See also Tick Removal instruments.
Fine tweezers (preferably curved) - grasp tick firmly as close to skin as possible, then pull up.
See also Tick Removal instruments.
Chemical killing As above, if required Not recommended. Not recommended.

*Sizes are length x width of body (i.e. not including legs or capitulum)

^ The toxin-producing salivary glands are located in the body of the tick, not the mouthparts.
  Mouse-over the image to highlight salivary glands.