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Today I've learnt that one can't vaccinate against Borreliose, also known as Lyme Disease. I've thought that I can't get that (yeah, that was stupid) and so didn't really care about ticks. However, since one really has to care about them, what should one do to avoid a bite in the first place?

Edit:

I don't ask for clothing only. I ask for tricks (like put your pants in your socks), chemical tools (creams etc.), natural tools ("cover yourself in honey" or something =)), landscapes/specific places to avoid, time periods to deny and maybe even special kinds of movements to make or to avoid (and so on).

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    Depending on the place you are, how widespread borreliose is there and your activity it might be better just to watch out for an infection (big red mark, starting to wander around the bite) and go directly to a doctor for a treatment. If treated early, Borreliose often isn´t too bad. – Paul Paulsen Jul 21 '16 at 0:50
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    For those of us who aren't familiar with "borreliose" (which google doesn't think is used much in English, Lyme disease may make more sense (@PaulPaulsen) – Chris H Jul 21 '16 at 8:41
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    Covering yourself in honey ensures that you're continually pestered by bees, hornets, bears, etc, then hole yourself up indoors and don't get ticks. You can get the same effect by cutting out the middle-man (middle-bear?), just buy a games console. – Steve Jessop Jul 21 '16 at 19:23
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    According to wikipedia the tick must be attached to you for 36-48 hours before the bacteria spread. Therefore, if you check yourself often and rigorously Borreliose should be very unlikely. – Mingus Jul 26 '16 at 12:54

10 Answers 10

23

You will pick up ticks by spending a lot of time outdoors, but I routinely find them after walking across 10 ft of grass between my car and my front door. No matter how much prevention you practice, keep an eye out for Lyme symptoms, and go to the doctor for antibiotics if they show up. A vaccine would be much nicer.

The socks-in-your pants method is very popular, but I've never been convinced it actually works: I usually find ticks around my head and neck, and deer ticks (the type that spread Lyme disease) are so tiny that it takes very little for them to hide. I feel like I'd need a skin tight light colored jumpsuit for this to be truly effective. Lighter colored clothing makes it easier to see ticks, but they still look like specks of dirt.

DEET is very effective against mosquitoes, but only slightly effective against ticks. Permethrin treated clothing is much, much more effective. You can buy treated clothing (such as InsectShield), or you can buy the chemical and do it yourself (Read all instructions carefully). I don't have the reference with me, but I read one study where ticks that walked on the clothing fell off and died within a foot of crawling. This is what I prefer to use when I'm hiking. Treated pants at the least, and a treated shirt if it's available.

The other thing to do is check yourself often. Look at your legs and clothing every time you stop. When you stop for the day, look yourself over as much as possible. If you don't have a mirror, have someone else check your back, where you can't see.

Ticks prefer to hang out on the tips of plants, usually in the sun. They have an instinct to reach the highest places possible. This does not mean you won't find them in the shade, but if you walk through a sunny field during tick season, you've got a very good chance of picking one or more up.

They prefer to bite you in the warmest places possible, ideally someplace with some cover. The head and groin area are most popular, but I've also had one on my hip and on my neck.

  • Socks in your pants works just fine with the big ticks found where I hike: stop every half-mile or so (or after hiking through dense vegetation) and evict the ticks that are slowly making their way up your pants. – Mark Jul 19 '16 at 21:54
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    +1 for being the only sensible answer so far. People recommend really goofy stuff when it comes to ticks. I personally don't like permethrin and won't use it, so I just rely on finding and removing ticks. It's actually not hard and you don't go around looking like an idiot with your long pants tucked into your high-top socks in the heat of summer. – Carey Gregory Jul 20 '16 at 0:59
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    +1 for check yourself often. It's easy to find and remove ticks after they land and before they bite. Just take a quick look every time you rest. – John Walthour Jul 20 '16 at 15:35
  • Not entirely sure about checking for symptoms tough. (I mean, absolutely, but at that point you are already well at risk) - seems more like complimentary info to your answer - wouldn't exactly start with that... – Spacemonkey Jul 20 '16 at 18:08
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    I keep a roll of scotch tape in my pack for ticks. When we find one, I tear off a small piece of tape and seal the tick inside it. It's safer to me than cutting it, a lot of times burning it isn't an option, and I sure as heck ain't throwing it back. The tape is super light I hardly notice it's there and while it's very weak tape, it has proven to have other uses on occasion (like repairing torn maps and sealing cracked phone glass.) – corsiKa Jul 21 '16 at 19:33
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Probably the single most important thing I do is to tuck the bottom of my pants into the socks. Ticks like to crawl upwards. If they drop onto your feet, they will crawls upwards on your leg looking for the first bit of soft skin with blood vessels close to the surface. If they can get inside your pants, they will find such skin eventually. Otherwise, they'll crawl harmlessly on the outside of your pants where they may drop off after a while and where you have a better chance of spotting them before they get to your neck.

Of course this only works if you are hiking with shoes and long pants. Hiking barefoot with long pants is the worst tick-wise, and not recommended for that reason. Hiking in shorts works because you can sense the ticks crawling up your legs much better when pants aren't rubbing against them. The hairs on your leg can do their job and act as a early warning system. In that case, barefoot is actually a little better tick-wise, because you have more of a chance to feel ticks on their journey upwards.

I've never had a tick attach anywhere on the feet or legs. I think the skin isn't suitable for them there.

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    Guess it depends on people, but I have never felt a tick, ever. They are so small. You have to be pretty good to feel one moving around on you unless you simply aren't doing anything at all at that particular moment and aren't thinking of anything in particular etc... – Spacemonkey Jul 19 '16 at 19:24
  • @Spacemonkey I never have either, and I've had quite a few from growing up playing in the woods every day – Taegost Jul 19 '16 at 19:59
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    Ticks never jump off you. (They're not even capable of jumping.) Once that tick is on your pants one of two things is guaranteed to happen: you're going to notice it (unlikely) or it's going to find skin. And although ticks prefer more tender skin higher up, they're perfectly happy to attach to legs and ankles. I've removed a number of them from my legs, including one last year that I found a day too late that led to a nasty little local infection requiring antibiotics. – Carey Gregory Jul 20 '16 at 0:33
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    @Carey: I should have said "drop" off instead of "jump" off. I'll go fix that. However, ticks do sometimes drop off things. Sometimes they don't like the thing they are on. Other times they think there is a warm thing passing by that might be good for getting blood from. After all, that's how they get from the vegetation to your legs in the first place. – Olin Lathrop Jul 20 '16 at 11:31
  • Actually the area on the back and inner side of my thigh is the prime area where I find ticks that have bitten me. – imsodin Jul 21 '16 at 8:12
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Coincidentally one of the physicians of Tropical Disease at a major Toronto Hospital has recently done a write up on ticks and how to deal with them. You can find the full article here.

Here is the relevant part in case the link breaks in the future.

What you can do: Insect repellants are effective at keeping ticks away. Dr. Keystone also recommends wearing long sleeves and pants when visiting areas where you know there may be ticks, and tucking your pants into your socks.

Dr. Keystone also stresses the importance of tick checks after leaving an area where ticks are common. He recommends checking your whole body, paying particular attention to the hairline, underarms, groin, ankles and behind the knees. He says the tick will look like a small mole.

If you find a tick, carefully remove it using tweezers.

“Do not use your fingers and do not apply anything to the area. You need to grasp the tick right up against the skin, and pull it off in a smooth motion, making sure to remove the tick and its mouth bars,” says Dr. Keystone.

If you find a tick on your skin 36 hours after being exposed, Dr. Keystone says not to panic, but to seek medical attention.

“What we now know is that if you receive a single dose of doxycycline within 72 hours after removal of a tick that has been attached for more than 36 hours, infection can be prevented,” he says.

Public health experts recommend that if ticks are removed they should be placed in a Ziploc bag and sent to the lab for identification.

One thing mentioned in the article is you needn't be too paranoid about catching Lyme disease from ticks as:

...not all ticks carry Lyme disease, and Dr. Keystone says if a tick has been on the skin less than 36 hours, you aren’t at risk of contracting the disease.

So just keep vigilant and check yourself, or buddy up and have each person check the other, to make sure there aren't any ticks hitching a ride.

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    Hi Malco and @Nobody. Science has proven that the 36 hour time test is not as accurate as once thought. It has now been refuted by a number of studies. Lyme can be transmitted in the first 24 hours, and even as early as 6 hrs in an extreme case. Check out Lyme Disease Organization Hard Science for reports from numerous studies. I have two friends who nearly died from Lyme, so I always err on the side of caution, but science is even more important than my anecdotes. – Sue May 11 '17 at 18:38
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  • avoid grass and shrubs;
  • keep your clothings shut tight, i.e. there should be as less places for the tick to get to your body as possible; wrap socks around pants, wear long-sleeved shirt, put something on your head;
  • inspect yourself from time to time - especially after you've been to dense plants area;
  • very simple, but still effective (saved me a couple of times), stop for a couple of seconds and listen to your feelings - when tick is crawling through the hair on your leg it is very easy to feel, but you should stop moving, because otherwise this feeling would be overrided by one from pants rubbing against your body;
  • tick will try to get to some specific areas of your body - underarm and crotch are the most popular - it would take some time for the tick to get there and these areas must be checked when you're off the wild or before going to sleep in a camp.
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    The hairy leg method works best for those who don't shave :-) – Karen Jul 19 '16 at 15:49
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    @Karen I assure you that tiny little legs creeping over your skin can be felt with or without hairy legs. ;-) – Carey Gregory Jul 20 '16 at 0:56
  • How do I avoid grass and shrubs in the wilderness? I should wear long sleeves and pants and socks on a hot day whilst hiking up steep hills? Isn't that just trading ticks for heat stroke? I agree with your last two points, though. – Carey Gregory Jul 20 '16 at 1:02
  • @CareyGregory I suppose it depends on how heavy the area is infected and type of activity. Walking along a good trail on a sunny day knowing that, well, there may be some ticks around - I will not care much about 'em. Gathering mushrooms or berries is a very different story - I'll try to wrap myself tight. – Usurer Jul 20 '16 at 4:12
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    @CareyGregory, you don't need heavyweight, tight-fitting clothes. Unlike mosquitoes, ticks don't bite through clothing, so baggy, thin fabric works just fine. – Mark Jul 21 '16 at 21:39
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Ticks are arachnoids and have an interesting life-cycle that you must understand if you want to avoid them.

enter image description here

What this diagram doesn't explain is how the tick seeks a host. There may be as many as five blood meals in the life of a tick. Each is followed by moulting after which the tick climbs tall grass. It hangs from the end of a frond, waving barbed front legs in the air. When a potential host brushes the tick or bumps the plant ticks drop. If they land on the host they climb. When a suitable site is found, a barbed proboscis is inserted into the host and gorging begins. Those that miss the host must climb the grass for another try. Casualties to birds are tremendous; each tick lays about ten thousand eggs of which only two survive to lay more eggs.

Moulting requires moist conditions. As a result, ticks seeking a new host are most common two to three days after rain breaks a dry period. In dryer climates like Australia (where I live) you can avoid ticks altogether by staying away from long grass in the week after rain.

If you own the property of interest then I suggest acquiring some guinea fowl. They are voracious bug hunters and will annihilate the local ticks.

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(I'm adding this as an answer, because it addresses some points in the original question as well as supplementing the tips given by other answerers, but although it's kind of supplementary, it is too long to be a comment. If that's not correct SE etiquette, please let me know, but I thought the guidance was important enough to be added here.)

Avoidance through terrain choice

While a lot of good advice has been given here about dressing, self-inspections, and chemical repellents, I'll skip directly to your question about avoidance: while found everywhere, ticks prefer warm, damp climates and tend to be most populous on islands and coastal areas. Going inland and to higher ground (where there is less vegetation for them to hide in, and also fewer mammals to attract them) would help here. The CDC has an interesting set of species distribution maps for ticks in the USA. In short, weather and location have a great effect on your likelihood of encountering ticks.

Avoidance with darker-coloured clothing

Some studies have found that ticks are more likely to be attracted to you if you wear lighter-coloured clothing. Darker colours, on the other hand, seem to be less favourable.

Removal tool

One item which I would always carry in an outdoors first aid kit is the tick removal tool. They greatly reduce the risk of squeezing the tick when attempting removal, as can happen with fingernails or tweezers, which can force it to vomit inside the bite. They do this by being specially-designed to grasp the tick firmly, while avoiding lateral pressure on the tick's body. There are two main styles of removal tool:

  • the fork type, where you slide a narrowing V just behind the tick's head
  • the pincer type, which has a spring-driven pair of pincers, and continues to hold the tick after removal

Removal technique

With or without a specialised removal tool, tick removal technique is still a much debated issue: should you pull straight, or twist as you remove it? The current position of the CDC is to pull straight. This is because twisting can cause the head to break off (the exception here is removal tools which are specially designed to use a twisting motion), and thus presents a lower risk. The general guidelines are:

  • the tick's body must not be compressed, as this can force out saliva and gut contents which may contain disease-causing organisms
  • the tick should not be irritated or injured, as this may result in it regurgitating (vomiting) saliva and gut contents along with any disease-causing organisms
  • the mouth parts of the tick should be cleanly removed along with the rest of its body

Keep the specimen in case of infection

If you have any concerns about the nature of your tick bite (or especially if you see any redness around the bite area - concentric red rings are a sign of Lyme's Disease), seal the tick in a Zip-Loc bag and freeze it. This is because in addition to Lyme's Disease, ticks can also carry and transmit dozens of other nasty things (also listed at CDC), including bartonellosis, ehrlichiosis, encephalitis, ricketts, and more.

Bringing the source tick to your hospital if you find an infection can help the medical staff to quickly identify what the creature might have been carrying.

  • I think the light clothing idea is that they can be seen more easily on those than dark clothing – Erik vanDoren Jul 20 '16 at 14:20
  • That's certainly one aspect of it, but if you check the link I provided, there was a study conducted which concluded that "The overall mean in found ticks between both groups differed significantly, with 20.8 more ticks per person on light clothing. All participants had more ticks on light clothing in all periods of exposure. Dark clothing seems to attract fewer ticks." – flith Jul 20 '16 at 14:24
  • I dont say the study is not true. But I would think one would prefer getting 21 ticks on light clothing, see 21 and get rid of all of them rather than getting 1 on black clothing, not seeing it and bringing it back home... – Erik vanDoren Jul 20 '16 at 14:43
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Disclaimer: I have to deal with the possibility of 'mingling' with Ticks on an almost daily basis during the summer. And generally speaking am pretty up to date on 'tick stuff' however do not only take my word for it - Lyme Disease is serious - definitely look stuff up.

  • First off, Lyme Disease is only transmitted by certain 'subspecies' of ticks. (If you're in Canada, those subspecies aren't as prominent so you're already in for some luck)

  • Second off, when a tick feeds on you, they stay latched on to feed for up to 3 days, it is in the latter days that they begin secreting stuff (read up) and that's when the risk of contracting the disease increases (IF the tick is a carrier).

  • And third (edited: see comments) in my experience, ticks do - like other bugs - die in extreme heat and become comatose in cold, in my case I have never found any on me after a hot shower.

What this means is that regardless of precautions and prevention, if you check yourself out quickly and take a nice (long) hot shower everyday, you should be fine.

If you get bitten and find it right away there are very little chances of contracting the disease, obviously you should play it safe and keep the tick by removing it with tweezers and having it checked out. If they find out it is carrying the disease you can get treatment before symptoms start showing - which normally guarantees you'll be fine. The disease is nasty when it develops unchecked with no prevention/intervention - once it's done its damage, it's mostly irreversible.

Myself, I almost go and roll around in tall grass and stuff so I like taking a few extra precautions. Permethrin on clothes really works like a charm, if you're lucky enough to spot one that lands on you, you'll see them making a run for it. It even tends to repel mosquitoes... Obviously wearing clothes that aren't loose and cover you, make it almost impossible for any to get to you. (Unless you go sleeping in a tick infested area)

Ticks like letting themselves drop on heat sources below by climbing to the top of tall blades of grass, or branches etc... If there's nothing around from where stuff could drop on you, that's just again, less chances of getting in contact with the nasty bugs. It isn't true that they'll jump from the ground into your face.

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    Your last point is wrong: earlier this year, I walked through a quarter-mile of dense knee-high grass wearing boots and full-length pants, and then knocked thirty-five ticks (I counted) off my legs when I stopped in a clearing. – Mark Jul 19 '16 at 21:59
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    I agree with @Mark. Your last paragraph is dead wrong. I've also had more than one tick I hadn't found yet remain attached to me through a hot shower or two. I'm extremely skeptical that ticks dislike hot showers. I don't think it matters a bit to them. – Carey Gregory Jul 20 '16 at 0:49
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    "First off, Lyme Disease is only transmitted by certain 'subspecies' of ticks. (If your in Canada, those subspecies aren't as prominent so your already in for some luck)" Thats not really true, Lyme-carrying ticks were common in southern Ontario and now they can be found in all the other provinces. The cases of Lyme diseases have increased and in the last few years it has been recognized that distribution in Canada is changed. – Erik vanDoren Jul 20 '16 at 13:48
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    "you can get treatment before symptoms start showing - which normally guarantees you'll be fine" that is also not correct: people can show signs and symptoms after some time and over a long period, diagnoses are made after blood tests are done and many wont be positive right away and a lot get false negatives. Only 1 on 10 sufferers will report ever having the bullseye rash and only 3 on 10 report some kind of generalized rash. Because of this its a disease often misdiagnosed. Early intervention just means better chances of defeating before it gets chronic, not "youll be fine" – Erik vanDoren Jul 20 '16 at 14:14
  • @ErikvanDoren while I'm all for being corrected (I have had plenty of experiences with tick but am in no way a Tick specialist) - your agreeing yourself to what I stated... Yes lyme-carrying ticks are becoming more common in southern Canada - it's still not all ticks and they are still more present in the states... ; as for the second, if you have the resources to get the tick tested , yes, you can get treatment without ever having shown signs if the tick was determined to be a carrier. – Spacemonkey Jul 20 '16 at 15:51
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I'm a bit surprised to see that nobody else as suggested this, but powder the top of your shoes/socks and bottom of your pants with sulfur. Powdered sulfur is available at local feed/ranch stores, and maybe even Wal-Mart or Lowes, depending on where you are. It's inexpensive and you can use an old sock as a very effective applicator.

So as the others have suggested, tuck your pants into your boots (or socks if you don't have boots), but then powder around the opening on both sides with sulfur.

  • I have never ever seen "powdered sulfur"! Very interesting – user2766 Jul 21 '16 at 7:45
  • It may actually come in a solid form, a bit like gymnasts chalk, but even so it should be simple enough to crumble. My mom years to keep an old Folgers can of or next to the back door. – Ben Collins Jul 21 '16 at 11:21
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Stay inside. Being outside is fraught with dangers. There is good advice here. I lean more to the "inspection after the fact" camp. I don't think prevention is statistically better than inspection enough to warrant the expense and time required to do so. I believe it would detract from the experience and start the excursion off with a mindset of fear instead of awe and wonder.

Nature is wild and wonderful. Our interactions with it require us to be prepared. Become educated in locating, killing, and removing ticks in the manner you can do so reliably. The best method of preventing Lyme Disease is the action you will consistently perform. Not some fancy tool or chemical you can't use effectively or regularly.

  • "Become educated in locating, killing, and removing ticks in the manner you can do so reliably." Ahm... that's exactly what I asked for. – OddDeer Nov 14 '16 at 9:13
  • @OddDeer Fair enough. I didn't stress enough my point. My recommendation is for inspection and removal at regular and appropriate intervals to remove ticks before they bite rather than preventative measures (before) or removal tools/techniques (after). – Jammin4CO Nov 14 '16 at 14:35
  • @OddDeer Actually, it's the opposite of what you asked for. You asked "What can I do to prevent them in the first place?" This answer is "Don't worry so much about that and just deal with them after the fact." So, strictly speaking, it does not answer your question directly, but it still provides reasonable advice and gets my +1. Still, I think I'm going to put some effort into prevention anyway. – Loduwijk Oct 3 '17 at 19:11
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Around where I live, there is a very small species of tick that does not carry the disease, but causes a very unpleasant itch. Seeing them (before or after the fact) is difficult (magnifying glass stuff). The one tip that seems to work is adding about a cup of Dettol to your bath water (this product may not be available where you live). Also seems to work on other species, obviously.

I have spent a lot of time outdoors when younger and still do occasionally now. Had tick bite fever too, many years ago - not pleasant. My experience is that you can not prevent being bitten 100%, but you can do a lot to prevent getting the disease. It should be sufficient to check yourself every evening. Unfortunately they do tend to crawl up to body areas not always easy to check by yourself (back, arm pits, crotch, and between buttocks) so it is helpful if you have a non-squeamish partner that can go over such areas of naked skin very thoroughly - else a hand mirror is probably the best you can do.

Do note that the information below elicited contradictory comments, and in fact is contradicted by some "official" websites (while corroborated by others). As always, you yourself are ultimately responsible for your actions and choices. It would seem prudent to get professional advice from the appropriate healthcare professional.

As you probably know, once you find a tick, do not pull it off. Its mouth parts may break off and remain behind in your skin, which will still infect you with the disease. The easiest for me is to paint the critter with nail varnish, so it suffocates and falls off by itself (they have breathing openings somewhere in their body, not their face like humans). Other methods may be covering it in petroleum jelly (which sounds as if it can rub off), or press the red-hot tip of a twig from the camp fire (or a blown-out match) against its body to kill it (you need a steady hand for that... not recommended).

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    Burning the tick, suffocating it, or otherwise trying to kill it before removal is very much not recommended. – Mark Jul 19 '16 at 22:06
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    Good link. Posting it here in case it changes, and noting that you can buy a small device that looks like a can pull tab, but has a V, and can be used to remove the tick. "Avoid folklore remedies such as "painting" the tick with nail polish or petroleum jelly, or using heat to make the tick detach from the skin. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible--not waiting for it to detach." – michaelok Jul 19 '16 at 22:16
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    Your fingers are the best tick removal tool ever invented. They're trivially simple to remove without leaving mouth parts in; I do it routinely all spring, summer and fall. And your last paragraph is just bad advice. – Carey Gregory Jul 20 '16 at 0:54
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    @fr13d, it's because these methods pose a higher risk that the tick will react to this sort of aggression by vomiting up its stomach contents into your body. That's why gentle but firm pulling is recommended by most credible sources, up to and including the CDC. – flith Jul 20 '16 at 14:27
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    @Mark, I just noticed that the highlighted text in your comment is connected to two different sites: very much is from NHS in the UK; not recommended is from the Center for Disease Control in the USA. Both sites are very important, so I'm leaving this comment for people who might just click on one word. Thanks! – Sue Jun 6 '17 at 15:41

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