Tick(ed) Off?

Dear Lucy: With the talk of a really bad tick season and new tick-borne diseases, I was intrigued by that video making the rounds on social media that shows a tick dislodging itself shortly after the application of a drop of peppermint oil. But then another friend posted that she’d heard that the peppermint-oil method was actually dangerous and made infection more likely. Is that true? How do you recommend removing a tick? —Peppermint Patty

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Dear PP: Lucy scanned your question, shuddered, and promptly dropped it on the doorstep of MIT Medical’s Howard Heller, associate medical director and renowned expert on diseases transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes, and other creepy things that fly or crawl. 
While more squeamish mortals might flee from such queries, the fearless Dr. Heller tackled the topic with gusto. He began by debunking the notion that this method increases the risk of Lyme disease or other tick-borne infections. “Some people theorize that agitating the tick with the application of peppermint oil might cause it to shed more bacteria,” he explains. “But this has not been demonstrated at all.”
Nevertheless, Heller continues, it’s not the optimal method of tick removal. “The best way to remove a tick is by grasping it firmly, but not too tightly, with fine tweezers and pulling it straight out of the skin,” he says (this video demonstrates the technique nicely). “Once the tick is removed,” he continues, “wash the area with soap and water or alcohol cleanser.  
While it’s great to know the proper way to remove a tick, Lucy’s all about keeping ticks away in the first place. To do that, she follows CDC recommendations to use insect repellents that contain 20 to 30 percent DEET (N, N-diethyl-m-toluamide) on exposed skin and clothing. The EPA even offers an online quiz to help you choose the insect repellent that’s right for you.
Don’t let fear of ticks keep you from enjoying the great outdoors. But do take precautions and do a full-body tick check after spending any amount of time in an area that might be home to ticks. Wearing light-colored clothing will also make it easier to spot ticks that have hitched a ride home.
Happy summer! —Lucy


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