As summer comes and the weather gets warmer, it’s hard to resist the great outdoors. While we might feel safe in our manicured parks and trails, there are many critters around that don’t have our best interest in mind.
With the rise in Lyme disease awareness, we’re becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of ticks. Specialists are also warning that America and Canada will both experience a true tick invasion this summer due to two consecutive warm winters as well as other environmental factors (1,2).
Additionally, public health groups are speaking out about the Powassan Virus, which affects the nervous system and can be transmitted from a tick in as little as 15 minutes (3).
The Dangers of Ticks
Ticks are particularly fond of children, who spend plenty of time outside in their summer clothes, which give ticks easy access to their skin.
For one Oregon couple, the thought of ticks never even crossed their mind. That is, until a tick bite left their 3-year-old partially paralyzed.
Amanda Lewis and her husband Lantz posted the following video of their daughter Evelyn struggling to stand after spending the day outside. The video has been viewed over 21 million times.
We had a little bit of a scary morning today…luckily everything is ok but I wanted to share this so the rest of you…
“Evelyn started acting a little weird last night around bedtime. She didn’t want to stand up after her bath to get into her pajamas. I helped her and got her in bed. She was a little fussy last night and I ended up sleeping in bed with her all night,” Amanda Lewis wrote in a Facebook post (4).
As her symptoms got worse, Evelyn was brought to the ER. Her parents worried that she might be suffering from cancer or a brain tumor.
Luckily, Evelyn’s doctor recognized her condition after studying the symptoms of other children her age throughout the last 15 years. He suggested she might be suffering from a tick bite.
He found the tick on her head, removed it, and monitored her as she recovered. The next day, she felt much better and only complained of itching on the side of the bite.
Tick paralysis can affect children and pets and begins with the paralysis of lower extremities. The paralysis will gradually progress upwards to the chest, face, and arms. Without removal of the tick, the respiratory muscles will fail and the patient will likely die of respiratory failure (5).
If your child or pet experiences the symptoms shown in the video, seek emergency medical assistance immediately.
The Correct Way To Remove Ticks
Many health sites recommend using peppermint oil to remove ticks from your skin.
The problem with this method is that ticks in distress are more likely to salivate into your skin, spreading disease.
Western Connecticut State University’s Dr. Neeta Connally explained to The Daily Mail:“drowning ticks in substances like peppermint oil can aggravate them, causing the spread of disease.”(6)
In fact, ‘Using solutions such as alcohol, aftershave, oils/butter, paraffin, petroleum jelly or nail polish to try to suffocate a tick may cause it to regurgitate (vomit) saliva and gut contents as it tries to disengage its mouth parts and escape the irritating solution,” warns Borreliosis and Associated Diseases Awareness (BADA) UK (7).
“We don’t want to agitate the tick in any way that is going to make it salivate more and thereby more likely to transmit anything into you that may make you sick,” confirms Dr. Connally.
Incorrectly removing a tick can also cause the tick’s mouth parts to be left behind in the skin, which may result in a localized infection. These bits may not be visible to the naked eye.
Instead, use fine-tip tweezers (precision tweezers) or a tick removal tool to remove the tick. Do not use forceps or eyebrow tweezers and they may squeeze the tick and cause regurgitation.
How to Safely Remove a Tick
Here’s how to remove a tick with tweezers, according to BADA UK (8):
1) Grasp the tick as close to the skin of the host (the animal or person it’s attached to) as possible and pull upwards with steady, even pressure.
Do not twist or jerk the tick as this may leave its mouth parts embedded, or cause it to regurgitate disease-causing fluids. If any mouth parts do break off, they may be removed with a sterilized needle or tweezer points.
2) Do not squeeze or crush the body of the tick, because its fluids (saliva and gut contents) may contain disease-causing organisms and leak into the host’s bloodstream or into the skin.
3) Do not handle the tick with bare hands, because certain disease-causing organisms may enter through breaks in the skin, or through mucous membranes (if you touch eyes, nostrils or mouth).
4) After removing the tick, disinfect the bite site with an antiseptic wipe or wound wash and wash your hands with soap and water.
5) You may want to save the tick for identification in case the person or animal the tick was attached to becomes ill within several weeks. Write the date of the bite in pencil on a piece of paper and put it with the tick in a sealed plastic bag and store it in a freezer. Your doctor/vet can then be certain that a tick bite has occurred and use this information to assist in making an accurate diagnosis.
After a tick bite has occurred, keep an eye on the bite site for any signs of inflammation, infection or an expanding rash. Seek medical advice if the bite area fails to heal, becomes inflamed or if the person or the animal the tick was attached to becomes unwell.
If you’re using a tick removal tool such as the O’Tom Tick Twister ®, follow the instructions on this page and watch the video below.
Preventing a Tick Bite
Anytime you go for a walk in the forest, go camping or have a picnic in the park, you could be at risk of a tick bite. In fact, there are more than 40 species of ticks in North America (9).
Not all ticks bite humans, even fewer transmit disease. For example, wood ticks do not transmit Lyme disease, but black-legged ticks do. Ticks vary in size and habitat, making some of them harder to identify.
The best way to keep ticks away is by covering your skin so that the tick has no skin to bite. Wear long clothing and tuck in socks, shirts, and gloves to keep them from crawling under your clothes.
Another great solution is to spray your clothes with a peppermint oil bug spray or by diluting peppermint oil in jojoba oil and applying it directly to your skin.
To make your own spray, you’ll need (10):
- 1/4 cup distilled or boiled water
- Two teaspoons of witch hazel
- Two teaspoons of vodka
- 10 drops eucalyptus essential oil
- 25 drops peppermint essential oil
- 10 drops of lemongrass essential oil
- 10 drops of clove essential oil
Here’s how to do it:
- Pour water into a spray bottle.
- Use a funnel to pour the witch hazel and vodka into the bottle.
- Add peppermint and shake to combine.
- Add other oils and shake again.
- Store in a dark, cool place and shake before each use. Spray onto clothes or skin every two hours as needed.
The mixture will also works against mosquitoes and blackflies.
It’s also a good idea to keep a sticky lint roller on hand and roll it on your clothing from time to time to see exactly what you’ve picked up.