How to Check for Ticks and Remove Them

By Sue Marquardt, RN March 28, 2017

Outdoors in Wisconsin is a great place to be, but be careful not to bring home any deer or wood ticks. Here's how to find them and safely remove them.

I grew up in the rural hills of southwestern Wisconsin. When we weren’t in school, my siblings and I were outside early after breakfast and with the exception of a meal here and there, stayed out until after dark. We spent our days running through the woods and pastures. All through spring and summer, we would hear the same repeating words when we came in at the end of the night, "Check for ticks!" What followed was the routine inspection: we checked each other’s backs and ran our fingers meticulously through our hair, always on the lookout.

It was not uncommon to pull several ticks off each night during those years. After awhile, these ticks were like siblings - always hanging around! They never bothered me. My mom pulled them off and out pretty easily. She had a lot of practice. We never had a problem with them.

However, deer and wood ticks are not without any danger. If not discovered right away, these little creatures will burrow down into your skin and enjoy a meal or two, or three before you find them. They like your blood and are pretty content to overstay their welcome, so it’s important to be on the lookout after you and your family have been outside.

Wood ticks are brown, about the size of a match head, flat, and beetle-shaped with slightly curly legs. Deer ticks are also brown and similarly shaped, but smaller, approximately pinhead size. Their bodies are hard and can get bigger with their blood meals. Yuck!

Don't panic if you find one attached. Follow these steps:

  1. Wash the area with antibacterial soap and water.
  2. Forget all the myths you have heard about removing them. The easiest and most effective way is to grasp the tick closest to the skin with a tweezers or fingernails and pull quickly and firmly straight out.
  3. If a piece of the head remains in the skin, pull it out like you would a sliver with your tweezers cleaned with alcohol. Diseases are carried in the ticks mid-body.
  4. Wash the area with anti-bacterial soap and water.
  5. Put a dab of antibiotic ointment on it and cover with a Band-Aid.
  6. Watch for signs of infection such as increasing redness, swelling, and pus-type drainage at the site.
I like to tell people to write down on a calendar the date and site of the bite because on occasions these little critters can cause infections such as Lyme Disease, and less common around here, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Symptoms from Lyme's can begin three to 32 days after the bite. They include:
  • Fever
  • Muscles aches
  • Joint pain
  • Rash around the site (bull’s-eye type) or even a rash elsewhere
  • Stiff neck
  • Flu-like symptoms

Call your health care provider with any of these symptoms.

I can't help mentioning the cliché, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”  Insect repellent can help; products containing permethrin are effective as an insecticide and a repellent and should be used on clothing only. Spray it on your clothes and wear light colors so you can see ticks better. DEET products can be used on skin. Do not allow children to handle products.

Remember, these little ticks are in season now and they love the hotel accommodations your body provides, so after being outside, check for ticks!