Last weekend, while changing my 2-year old’s pull-up, my husband asked me to “take a look at something.” He laid her down on the changing table and showed me a small speck on her inner thigh. Upon closer inspection I realized that she had a tick about the size of a flea embedded in her skin.
Instantly, my heart sank. I ran upstairs, and grabbed my anti-tick kit: tweezers, a box of matches and an empty jar. I lit a match, blew it out and carefully placed the hot tip on the tick. Then, with the tweezers, I got as close as I could to the tick’s mouth and yanked the little guy out of my daughter’s skin. I placed the tick in the jar and secured the lid.
Now, I have been bit by countless ticks in my lifetime. Growing up as a Girl Scout, pulling a tick off of my body was as common as having a cup of coffee every morning in my adult life. In fact, if I didn’t come home with a tick or two from a camping trip, then I probably didn’t have a good time.
But nowadays, it seems as if lyme disease, a tick-born disease, is rampant. I know several people who have the disease, or friends of friends struggling with the disease. And it’s not pretty. Flu-like symptoms, joint pain, rashes, and if untreated, even meningitis and brain swelling can result from lyme disease. And lyme disease is only one of a myriad of potential tick-borne illnesses (I got woozy and lost count after seeing over 10 different diseases, including rocky mountain spotted fever).
Most literature out there will tell you in order to keep ticks way, stay away from high grass/brush, and stay out of the woods. But, my child had not been near either. The night before, she had run back and forth through several recently mowed lawns – not one long blade of grass in sight.
I immediately called my daughter’s pediatrician. They told me that I would need to call my health insurance to determine whether the cost to check a tick for lyme disease was covered. Apparently other parents had followed my thought process and been stuck with a $400 bill that their insurance would not cover.
After a call with my insurance company on one phone, and a second call with the pediatrician on the other, I found out that our insurance company does cover the $400 fee to have the tick checked for lyme disease.
And, after doing quite a bit of research over the past few days on ticks, I can tell you that the method of removal that I used is NOT recommended by doctors (and can supposedly increase the risk of the tick infecting its host via saliva in the mouth of the tick).
Below are the recommended tips for removing a tick:
1. Use a small pair of tweezers. Wear gloves – if you don’t wear gloves, you can transmit the pathogens from the tick to your hands!
2. Using the tweezers, flip the tick over onto its back and grasp the tick firmly with the tweezers as close to the tick’s head as possible. Apply gentle pulling pressure until the tick becomes free (might need to be patient here). DO NOT twist/turn the tick because its mouth is barbed and doing this might cause the head to break off and could increase the risk of infection.
3. Once removed, place the tick in a tightly closed jar (clean baby food jar works well) or tape the tick to a piece of paper. Alternatively, you can flush the tick down the toilet or sink.
4. If you can still see portions of the head or mouthparts, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible to have the parts removed.
5. Clean the bite area with soap and water or a mild disinfectant. For the next several days, observe the area for signs of infection, such as a rash. You can also apply antibiotic cream to the area.
6. Remember to thoroughly wash everything that came into contact with the tick, including your tweezers or other instruments used, your gloves, etc.
7. Call your doctor to find out whether they test ticks for lyme disease (or send the ticks away to a lab for further testing). Your doctor should have a code, called a CPT code, that you’ll need to give to your insurance provider (see #8).
If your insurance company does not cover the cost of the tick check, you can wait six (6) weeks after the tick bite and have your blood checked for lyme disease. This was recommended for my husband, who was bit by a tick several weeks ago and we ended up flushing it down the toilet.
8. Call your insurance company to find out whether they cover the test to check ticks for lyme disease. They’ll need the CPT code for reference.
How NOT to remove a tick:
1) Do not use a hot match, and do not cover or “paint” the tick with paint, nail polish, petroleum jelly, or gasoline. Doing this actually increases the risk of infection for the host (humans, dogs, cats) by stimulating the tick to release more pathogen-containing secretions into the bite site.
2) Be sure to remove all parts of the tick as soon as possible, as not doing so increases the risk of infection and/or inflammation.