Tick FAQs

1. How do ticks bite without you feeling it?


Tick Frequently Asked QuestionsTERC Answer: Because ticks stay attached to hosts, blood feeding for several days, they secrete novel pain killers, called kinases, in their saliva which help them go unnoticed. If you have been bitten previously, you may notice a small red bite mark, which can be itchy. If there is no tick at such a site, you may have already scratched it off without knowing it.

2. Is there a lab that I can send a tick to to see if it was carrying Lyme disease prior to treating myself with the long series of antibiotics?

TERC Answer: We have a number of places listed on our Tick Testing page. You can use our Tick Identification Chart to confirm that your tick is an adult deer tick. Deer ticks are the only tick species that transmit Lyme bacteria locally.

3. The tick biting me was nearly completely embedded under my skin. Does my doctor need to remove it?

TERC Answer: Ticks can only penetrate your skin with their hypostome. Their bodies are never embedded under the skin. Don't wait to see a doctor to remove a biting tick. It is easy to remove a tick safely by using a pointy tweezers. Don't worry if the head stays in, just disinfect the area with rubbing alcohol. You also might want to consider identifying and testing the tick for infection.

4. If I find a tick biting me, should I cover it with Vaseline or touch it with a hot match to get it to detach?

TERC Answer: No! These methods were once believed to be best years ago. Now we know that the safest way to remove a tick includes wiping it with rubbing alcohol to disinfect the affected area, and then remove the tick with a pointy tweezer.

5. If I rarely go outside, and never go in the woods, how did the tick biting me find me?

TERC Answer: First, you should know that Blacklegged ticks don't travel very far on their own, perhaps only one or 2 meters. However, they do get moved around by animals, and pets, particularly cats, are notorious for picking up a tick outside and then bringing it inside to humans. If the tick attaches to your cat or dog, it will not typically leave it, but if the animal comes inside or you pick it up, loose ticks crawling on the animals fur can easily transfer over to you. One helpful suggestion may be to make your cat an inside cat during the tick season.

6. I was bitten by a tick recently and now there is a big red spot. Should I be worried?

TERC Answer: It depends on how recently. Within 3 days of being bitten by a tick, many people will develop a red spot that never expands to bigger than a dime. This is just an allergic reaction to the saliva that the tick is spitting into you. Watch the site, however. If the red spot grows in size over a period of a week or so, to bigger than two inches, then it is likely to be a sign that you are infected with the Lyme disease agent.

7. Is it possible for a tick to become embedded in a person's scalp so deep that there is no lump there?

TERC Answer: No! Ticks can only embed their hypostome or mouthpart into the skin. Their palps, which cover the hypostome to protect it when the tick is not feeding, fold back and prevent the tick from going any further into your skin. 

8. I just pulled a corn kernel looking tick off my 3 month old yorkshire terrier puppy, should I take her to the vet?

TERC Answer: During the Fall and early Spring in the northeast, mid-Atlantic and upper mid-west, ticks that look like a "corn kernel" are most likely to be partially engorged female deer ticks -- most likely attached for about 3 days to look like a corn kernel. Their body generally looks pale at this stage and they have not started to swell up big.

If the dog has the Lyme disease vaccine, you are probably fine. However, 3 days is long enough for a deer tick to begin transmitting Lyme bacteria and the agent of anaplasmosis. If not vaccinated, you could give your vet a call and see if they will take any prophylactic measures.

9. Today I pulled out a dog tick out of my scalp. It was relatively easy to pull out as I only used my fingers to slide it out of my hair. I determined it is a dog tick possibly adult, but fairly flat. Can this type of tick transfer any disease?

TERC Answer: American dog ticks can be infected with Rocky Mtn Spotted Fever rickettsia, other less pathogenic rickettsia, Colorado Tick Fever virus, and rarely, with the agent of tularemia. However, in your geographic area, the dog tick infection rate is quite low for Rocky Mtn Spotted Fever and the other pathogens are not known to circulate there either. Hopefully, the only concern is a bit of a tick bite.

10. I was bitten by a tick on 4/29. It was itching terribly, that is how I found the tick. I pulled it off. It was so small I could not identify it. The sight is very swollen, still itches, is red, and seems to be spreading larger. Should I be alarmed or concerned about this bite sight?

TERC Answer: It sounds like a tick bite at this point. In people that have previously been bitten by the same type of tick, there often is a histamine-mediated hypersensitivity reaction that occurs within 20-40 hrs of another tick bite. It's your body making a reaction to a foreign substance (tick saliva) that it has seen before. In some people it can become quite severe--a localized anaphylaxis. You may want to see your primary medical provider, and be sure to mention your tick bite.

11. When a tick bites how long does it stay attached?

TERC Answer: The length of time a tick stays attached depends on the tick species, tick life stage and the host immunity. It also depends on whether you do a daily tick check. Generally if undisturbed, larvae remain attached and feeding for about 3 days, nymphs for 3-4 days, and adult females for 7-10 days. Deer ticks feed a day or so faster than Lone Star ticks and American dog ticks. You might be interested in our tick growth comparison pictures; ticks change their appearance pretty dramatically as they feed which can make identifying them challenging.

Host immunity also can impact duration of tick attachment as well. Prior sensitization to specific proteins in tick saliva can make it harder for ticks to ingest blood. Sometimes it causes them to stay attached a bit longer but more commonly, it makes the host itch and frequently the tick is removed by the scratching.

Source: TickEncounter.org