It’s the perfect summer day. You’re out in nature, breathing in fresh air and taking in all the sights and sounds — of course ticks are the last thing on your mind at that point. But you get home, unpack and find a pesky little insect attached to your skin. Don’t panic, because we’ve got you covered, literally.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that since 2004, nine new germs spread by bites from infected mosquitoes and ticks have been discovered or introduced into the United States. This is in large part because ticks feed off of warm-blooded animals, and their two favorite hosts, deer and mice, have grown in population. 

But the good news for humans is that a tick has to be attached for at least 36 to 48 hours before you are at risk for contracting an illness, says Laura Sigman, MD and pediatrician with Alpha Medical. “The risk of getting a tick-borne disease also depends on the area of the country and type of tick. In most places, only a small percentage of ticks carry diseases that can affect humans.”

What’s the best way to remove a tick?

It might feel gross, but the best thing to do is get right in there and pull the tick out with clean tweezers. Mark Loafman, family physician and system chair for Family and Community Medicine at Cook County Health says to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible and then pull slow and steady away from the skin. He advises to use caution and be sure all the mouthparts of the tick are removed, and if they’re still there, use tweezers to remove anything left behind. 

And if you’re thinking a treatment that comes from folklore will work, think again. “Avoid old home remedies like applying heat, nail polish or Vaseline, which can actually increase the risk of infection,” Dr. Loafman says. “After removal, wash hands and the bite area aggressively with soap and water, no need for alcohol or other cleansers.”

What should you do once you’ve removed a tick?

To prevent the tick from biting someone else, it is best to flush it down the toilet once removed from the skin, says Dr. Loafman.

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