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How To Remove A Tick — And Why A Hot Match Won’t Work

Washington state Department of Health

Memorial Day weekend in the Northwest coincides with prime time for ticks. These arthropods can drink your blood for days without you knowing.

So we asked an expert for the definitive answer on how to remove the blood-sucking bugs.

Forget The Vaseline, The Matches

Someone may have told you to slather the tick with Vaseline or scare it out with a hot match.

“Well, there's a lot of folk wisdom about removing ticks, and all of it's wrong,” said Glen Scoles, an entymologist with the USDA's Animal Diseases Research Unit in Pullman, Washington.

Here’s how Scoles removes ticks: “Just take a pair of fine forceps” — the CDC says fine-tipped tweezers will do — “and grab the tick as close to the skin as possible.”

And without squeezing the tick, gently pull it straight up.

That Darn Tick Saliva

Scoles says one of the reasons the match technique doesn't work is that the tick has very little control. After it bites, it secretes a cement-like protein to keep its mouth in place.

Tick saliva contains compounds that numb the skin as well as anti-coagulants to keep your blood flowing. It also contains immunosuppressants that prevent your body from responding.

“Tick saliva is a fascinating thing. I mean, there's just all kind of stuff in there going on,” said Scoles.

And it’s problematic. The most famous complication is Lyme disease, which, fortunately, is very rare in the Northwest.

Ticks In The Northwest

Ticks here can carry other diseases, including Rocky Mountain spotted fever and relapsing fever, which tends to turn up in people with lake homes. Ticks transmit relapsing fever from rodents who’ve nested in the house during the winter.

If you're in Washington, the state Department of Health wants you to send in your ticks so researchers can track what kind of ticks and what illnesses occur where.

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.