The chances of getting a tick bite—and being infected with a disease like Lyme or Powassan—are higher this spring and summer than they've been in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Mosquitoes and ticks are being found in new areas where we haven’t seen them occurring before,” says CDC spokesman Benjamin Haynes. And the list of diseases they carry is growing longer.

There are many simple steps you can take to protect yourself from getting bitten by a tick in the first place. But when those precautions fail, you'll want to know the best way to find these blood suckers, and the right way to remove them from your body. 

Know Where and How to Look

The CDC recommends that you bathe or shower as soon as possible after returning from a tick-prone area: You are more likely to find ticks crawling on you that way, and you may even catch them before they bite. 

You should also conduct a full-body tick check if you can: Use a full-length mirror to to examine all parts of your body for insects. And if you can't access a shower or a mirror right away, you should at least check the most likely hiding places: Ticks love dark, moist places, like the armpits, the groin, behind the ears, and at the base of the skull, near the hairline. 

It's important to perform these checks as soon as possible. While some pathogens (like the bacteria that causes Lyme Disease) take up to 72 hours to pass from tick to human, others (like the Powassan virus) can be transmitted in a matter of hours. The faster you find the tick, the less likely you are to become infected. 

The Right Moves

If you find a tick, don't panic! The CDC's protocol for removing them is quite simple: 

1. Use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible.

2. Once you have a firm grasp, pull upward with steady, even force. Don't twist or jerk the tick as you may cause the mouth to break off and remain in the skin. 

3. If you do accidentally break the tick in half, try removing the mouth with the tweezers. If you can't, leave it alone and let the skin heal. 

4. You can dispose of the tick in one of several ways: submerse it in alcohol; place it in a sealed bag or container; wrap it tightly in tape; or flush it down the toilet. (Never handle a tick with your bare fingers; pathogens called spirochetes can pass from the tick to you through even tiny breaks in your skin). 

5. Once the tick is disposed of, thoroughly clean the bite area, and your hands, with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. 

6. Check the bite area for several weeks after removal; if you develop a rash there (or have a fever at any point in that time-frame), see a doctor about getting tested for Lyme and other tick-borne diseases. 

What Not to Do

There is no shortage of alternative tick removal strategies to be found online. Most of those folk remedies have long since been debunked. A 1985 study in the journal Pediatrics compared several popular strategies (vaseline, nail polish, and a hot kitchen match) to the tweezers technique described above and found that none worked nearly as well. 

Fancy tools: There are several tick removal devices on the market, but the CDC says that a plain set of fine-tipped (pointy) tweezers, or a thin curved forceps (available at a regular pharmacy) is really all you need. These simple instruments are actually perfect for gripping the tick close to the skin and avoiding its bloated abdomen, which can burst open if you squeeze it. 

Suffocation: One popular folk remedy for removing ticks involves trying to "suffocate" them with butter, petroleum jelly, or some other thick waxy substance. Not only will this not kill the tick, but by delaying tick removal to try it, you increase the likelihood that disease-causing pathogens will pass from the tick's body to yours. 

Heat: Another popular tick-removal strategy involves using heat, usually in the form of a glowing match, to persuade the tick to detach from your skin on its own. This approach doesn't work because heat will only encourage the tick to burrow further into your skin. It also wastes precious time. Your goal is to remove the tick as quickly as possible, the CDC writes. You don't want to wait for it to detach.

Guide to Mosquito and Tick Diseases

Where Most Cases Occur

Serious Side Effects

Symptoms appear


Common Symptoms