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When in tick country, tick checks are critical. Easier with a buddy who can look where the sun doesn't shine, but even alone, diligent inspection (especially with a mirror of some sort) can go a long way.

This question is about what to do after spotting what might be a tick in solo inspection. If one isn't certain if they've found a tick or not, or they are pretty certain but it is hard to access, what's the best course of action?

The question is general but here's a specific scenario: camping out in backcountry, I do a tick check and find what might be a tick on my middle lower back. I use a mirror and I brush it with my finger, then my nail, to see if it moves even a little bit (likely a tick) or if it seems to be completely one-with-my-skin (probably a forgotten birthmark). If I can't convince myself it is not a tick I spotted, or if I end up confident it is a tick, what should my next course of action be given its hard-to-access location and the lack of anybody else around? All the more challenging in this scenario, I don't plan to see anyone else for at least a few more days!

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    @Erik I have in the past used this trick successfully many times, but CDC discourages it: apply liquid hand soap (quite specific) to the tick then rub the tick in a circular, counter-clockwise motion with a paper towel to dislodge its mouth from you. The soap chokes them causing them to seize up, and the towel untwists and removes them. I think it is discouraged because suffocating them can increase chances of them infecting you if they do carry a disease. – cr0 Jun 30 '17 at 16:19
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Determining whether it's a tick

If you have a digital camera or mobile phone with you, you could try photographing your suspected tick. I don't have a tick handy for testing purposes, but I just tried a couple of close-up shots with my mid-range 2015 phone and it doesn't have any trouble imaging features well under a millimetre in size. A high-end phone or digital camera ought to do even better.

However, even if you can't confirm with total certainty that it's a tick, there are a couple of removal techniques you could attempt.

Removing the suspected tick

Some sources recommend freezing the tick using a medical freezing spray, and letting the dead tick drop off naturally. If you plan ahead and bring freezing spray, this should let you remove a tick from anywhere you can reach to detect one. (However, some sources also recommend against freezing ticks, claiming that it can encourage them to regurgitate their stomach contents.) If your suspected tick isn't actually a tick, this technique won't do any harm.

If I found myself in this situation and didn't have freezing spray, I'd probably go with the (generally discouraged) technique of using my fingernails as tweezers. This risks squeezing the tick's body, but I think it's the lesser of two evils. And I think that my fingertips are sensitive enough to get the positioning right without being able to see what I'm doing. Like the freezing spray, this is a technique you can try even if you're not sure it's a tick. If it's a splinter, it's good to remove it anyway, and if it's a birthmark, you'll probably (painfully) realize this before you manage to pull it off completely :).

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  • This is a helpful answer. One thing it doesn't address (sorry if I had two questions in one) is how to confirm if it is indeed a tick you think you might be seeing in that hard to reach spot? – cr0 Jun 30 '17 at 19:27
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    @cr0 Good point, I'd missed that aspect of the question, and I don't have a good answer to it. If you have a digital camera or mobile phone, you might be able to get a sufficiently good photo for a visual ID. But I don't think a confirmed ID is necessary for these treatments. The freeze treatment won't do any harm if it's not a tick, and as for the fingernail pull... if you end up pulling a splinter, no harm done, and if you're trying to pull a birthmark I think you'll realize fairly swiftly :). – Pont Jun 30 '17 at 21:44
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    Have you tried to remove a tick with your fingers? I did and it is actually quite difficult already in easy to reach spots.. The smallest ones you can not even get a hold on with your fingers or fingernails. Larger ones you might get a grip on, but as you say, just on the body, and a little bit too much pressure and it squeezes. Then things are covered in blood so you have to wait until it dries, etc. All in all: difficult, might get messy, and risky. With lack of proper tweezers/spray there might still be a chance one has a knife/creditcard which is imo way easier than just fingers/nails. – stijn Jul 1 '17 at 7:20
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    (method 3 here for instance: wikihow.com/Remove-a-Tick) – stijn Jul 1 '17 at 7:20
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    @stijn Yes, I've done it once with fingernails when I had no tweezers and no chance of getting any for the next 12 hours. But it wasn't one of the tiny "seed ticks". In this case I mention the technique for ticks in places you can't see, because (unlike tweezers, dental floss, tick keys, etc.) fingers have nerve endings so you can position them without sight. – Pont Jul 1 '17 at 7:32

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