Sign on forest trail showing that hikers should watch for ticks.

How to Remove Ticks and Other Tips for Preventing Lyme Disease

May 29, 2024

With family vacations, weekend hikes, and backyard cookouts in full swing, summer fun can bring an increased risk of tick bites. Rafal Tokarz, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, has expertise in tick-borne pathogens and diseases. Drawing on years of research and field experience, Dr. Tokarz shares his own strategies for protecting himself, his family, and his pets from ticks.

For anyone who is anxious about tick bites this summer, could you suggest a few protective tips?

As part of my research, I used to go out several times a year to collect ticks. Doing so required me to be extra vigilant, but I can happily say that I have never gotten Lyme disease. I think that anyone who goes into areas known to have ticks should understand what to do when bitten, which will reduce the number of tick-borne infections.

There are simple rules one can follow to drastically reduce the chances of tick bites. For instance, when walking through the woods, avoid brushy areas and stay on the path. Ticks tend to be found on the leaf litter and on short brushy growth at the edges of the path. Some people think that ticks can jump, but that’s false. They just hang around with their front limbs up in the air, waiting for anything to touch them, at which point they grab on. So, sticking to the path makes it highly unlikely that a person will get bitten.

Ticks can be very different in size, depending on their stage of life. What we usually see in photographs are adult ticks, which tend to be fairly large and easier to spot. The bigger problems are the immature ticks, primarily a stage called “nymph.” These are extremely difficult to see because they are generally the size of a poppy seed.

One tactic is wearing light-colored clothing, which greatly improves the odds of spotting a tiny black nymph. Long pants and long sleeves, while uncomfortable in hot conditions, offer additional protection; the physical barrier they create gives a person extra time to spot a tick. Applying various repellants to clothing also adds protection, but it is key to apply repellants to shoes and pants, which is where ticks first grab onto the host.

Anyone walking through a tick-infested area should continuously check themselves for ticks; I recommend doing this every five minutes. While it may be annoying, it really decreases the chances that a tick that grabbed on will have the time to attach itself to the skin. If you find a crawling tick on clothing, there’s no need to panic. Just grab a pair of tweezers, pick up the tick, and get rid of it.

At the end of the day, I would also recommend asking another person (or using a hand mirror) to thoroughly check areas you can’t see. This exam would obviously be done by someone like a spouse or a parent, but it is really beneficial. Ticks can attach in some very bizarre and unlikely areas that only other individuals would be able to spot.

Could you explain how to remove a tick from the skin?

The tick should be removed as soon as possible. The longer the tick is attached, the greater the chances that it could transmit a pathogen. If the tick is attached, use a pair of tweezers to grab onto the tick as close to the skin as possible and give it a few gentle pulls. (Ripping it out could cause the tick’s mouthparts to break off and remain in the skin, causing irritation). Eventually, after a few gentle pulls, the tick should come out. If not, increase the force of the pulls, but only slightly.

Can dogs and other pets contract a tick-borne disease—or ferry ticks to their human owners?

Yes, pets can contract tick-borne diseases. Dogs are very well known to suffer from Lyme disease. That said, there is an effective Lyme disease vaccine for dogs, and I would strongly encourage all dog owners to vaccinate their pets.

Pets can also transport ticks from outdoors to indoors. Ticks can grab onto an animal and crawl around without attaching for a while. If this animal then goes indoors and somehow knocks the tick off, the tick can subsequently grab onto something else, including the pet’s owner.

Are there any new treatments for Lyme disease?

Currently, the standard antibiotic treatment remains the same as it has been in the past. However, this is an area of active research, and there have been promising findings of antibiotics that could potentially be used in the future to improve treatment.

Watch to Learn More

For more tips on preventing tick bites and Lyme disease, watch wilderness expert Chris Tedeschi, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine, share his strategies.

What NOT to do if you find a tick when hiking or camping



Rafal Tokarz, PhD, is an assistant professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. His research centers on respiratory and tick-borne pathogens and understanding their roles in human disease.