What's more fun than a barrel of rage-infected monkeys? Trying to remove a very large, very gross, very embedded, and very engorged tick from your very panicky autistic child. And for extra laughs, try doing it in a supermarket parking lot.
Yesterday, my poor Gus found a huge tick behind his right ear. He seemed to feel it suddenly and started scratching at it as we were getting in the car to leave the supermarket. One look told me that it had been there at least since the day before, and that's really the only time he could have gotten it. Of course, I panicked because, well: supermarket parking lot, kid picking at nasty bug, twenty minute ride home...take your pick of bad situational elements.
After dragging the kids through the parking lot trying to find someone with tweezers, I finally went back into the supermarket and a lovely clerk gave me a pair. I took Gus outside (with MM in tow, bless her little heart, she was so good about it) and with him screaming bloody murder, I managed to rip the thing apart and leave the head embedded. In other words, exactly what I was not supposed to do. It's kind of hard to remember all the rules in the midst of a panic, especially when you don't know the rules to begin with. I sort of half knew them, but with him twisting and writhing (and the nice people in the parking lot staring like I was ripping his head off instead of the bug's) just as I grabbed the head, Gus jerked and...pop, squish, off came the body without the head.
The good news is that the tiny deer ticks are usually the lyme carriers, but this isn't set in stone, so we will still watch for the signs of lyme: fever, fatigue, rash (can appear as long as 6-8 weeks from the time of the bite), etc.
From what I've learned, the most important thing is to not squeeze the tick because that makes it inject more (potentially infected) muck into the site. To remove a tick, if tweezers are the only thing available (preferably splinter tweezers), you've got to get the head and pull back gently to avoid breaking the tick and getting the head stuck in the skin, which can lead to infection. The head itself won't transmit lyme, but infection is still not really desirable. There are apparently devices, available in pet stores, for removing ticks that are supposed to be more effective than tweezers:
Commercially available tick-removal devices include the Sawyer Tick Pliers (B&A Products, Bunch, Okla.), Pro-Tick Remedy (SCS Limited, Stony Point, N.Y.) and Ticked Off (Ticked Off Inc., Dover, N.H.)*From American Family Physician
Methods to avoid include hot matches, vaseline, clear nail polish or nail polish remover to get the tick to dislodge. Those tend to make the little bloodsuckers dig in deeper and, you guessed it, squirt more nasty fluids.
Two preventative measures to take against these critters are to use insect repellent regularly, which can be difficult with a child who has sensory defensiveness to smells, and to perform tick checks. I've tried several formulas for Gus that he has absolutely hated. Aside from the odors, he doesn't like being sprayed with things. I'm next going to try a natural lemon and eucalyptus repellent (doesn't have a very strong smell). Bed, Bath and Beyond used to sell insect repellent bracelets (they looked like small coils) but I found those to be ineffective, and the kids would just play with them and take them off anyway. There are wipes to use for kids who dislike sprays.
During this time of year, especially if you live in a grassy, woody area where ticks are prevalent,you should check for ticks carefully every day. Spending a lot of time outdoors isn't a requirement for getting a tick - MM has had them jump her when she was just passing by a bush as soon as we left our house. (I caught that little bugger before he could attach himself.) She hadn't even made it to the grass and was still on the concrete path. We usually check every night, but it's not hard to miss something that small - do your best and be sure to check between toes, hairline, behind the ears, armpits and groin area.
Gus is fine now and I'm fairly certain we were able to get the rest of the tick dislodged from his skin. Be careful out there - the bugs seems to be particularly numerous this year. For us, we're going to try one of those tick removing devices very soon. This happened just in time for us to go camping! Keep your fingers crossed for us!