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How To Remove Ticks -- 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 how do you remove the blood-sucking bugs when you find them?

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

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

Here is the best way to remove ticks.

Take a pair of fine forceps or fine-tipped tweezers, grab the tick as close to the skin as possible, and without squeezing the tick, gently pull it straight up.

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 and anti-coagulants to keep your blood flowing. It also contains immunosuppressants that prevent your body from responding.

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

It's also problematic. The most famous complication: Lyme disease, which fortunately is very rare in the Northwest.

Ticks in the Northwest 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 them your ticks so they can track what kind of ticks and what illnesses occur where.