Detecting and removing ticks may be far beyond what a massage therapist might have anticipated in his/her job description. However, bodyworkers may be the only person to see certain parts of their clients’ bodies; and thus be the first to glimpse one of these blood-feeding parasites. Massage therapists who educate themselves on what to do in the presence of a tick are best prepared to help this arthropod’s victim – whether it is a family member or one of their own clients.
A Bit About Ticks
Because ticks are so common, people who spend any time in the outdoors will eventually encounter one. After attaching themselves to their host, a tick feeds on its host’s blood. Unfortunately, ticks can acquire diseases form one host and pass it to another through their saliva. With more than 800 species throughout the world, ticks are the leading carriers of diseases to humans in the United States, second only to mosquitoes worldwide. They are responsible for carrying such diseases as:
- Rocky Mountain spotted fever
- Lyme disease
- Babesiosis (Texas fever)
- Colorado tick fever
- Powassan (a form of encephalitis)
Research conducted at Ohio State University indicates that transmission of disease begins approximately 24 hours after a tick begins feeding. However, most infected ticks usually don’t spread the disease until they’ve been attached for at least 36 hours. Experts on disease transmission agree that the longer a tick feeds the greater potential for it to transmit an infection. Thus, anyone participating in outdoor activities, or who interacts with an outdoor pet, is advised to regularly survey his/her body for ticks.
Since the longer a tick stays attached to someone the more likely they are to become infected with a disease, their prompt removal is imperative. Folkloric descriptions for the best way to remove a tick have circulated for years, creating confusion for those spying one of these bloodsuckers. Although some tick removal methods involve using soap, petroleum jelly, nail polish or a match, experts warn that these approaches can increase the amount of saliva the tick transfers to its host. Experts suggest the following protocol for tick removal:
- Tweezers – Use fine point tweezers to grasp the tick at the place of attachment, as close to the skin as possible.
- Pull – Gently pull the tick straight out. Avoid crushing the tick’s body and do not be alarmed if the tick’s mouthparts remain in the skin. Once the mouthparts are removed from the rest of the tick, it can no longer transmit bacteria. If the tick is accidentally crushed, clean the skin with soap and warm water or alcohol.
- Save – Place the tick in a small vial or sealable bag with a damp paper towel to prevent it from dehydrating. If warranted by the victim’s physician, protecting the tick from dehydration aids in its identification.
- Clean – Wash your hands, disinfect the tweezers and cleanse the bite site.
Ethics of Tick Removal for Bodyworkers
A person receiving a massage may be unaware of a tick feeding on him/her. Especially if a client has recently been in a wooded area and the tick is hidden from his/her line of vision, a massage therapist’s routine could be interrupted upon spotting one of these arthropods.
Since a client’s well being should be a bodyworker’s top priority, attached ticks cannot be ignored. However, tick removal is not defined within a massage therapist’s scope of practice. Despite this omission, longer lengths of time increases the likelihood a feeding tick will transmit illness. Therefore, bodyworkers must take appropriate steps to help remove the tick from clients.
The following six steps are intended to guide a bodyworker who finds a tick on his/her client:
- Remain Calm – Getting freaked out does not benefit you or your client.
- Disclose the Problem – Calmly inform your client that you see a tick.
- Ask Permission – Ask your client for his/her permission to remove the tick. If s/he seems hesitant, inform him/her of the importance of timeliness.
- Remove Tick – Follow the tick removal instructions described above.
- Avoid Area – After cleaning the bite site, avoid massage therapy in that affected area.
- Advise – After your session, give the tick to your client and suggest s/he discuss future steps (tick identification and/or prophylactic medication) with his/her physician.
Even if the thought of seeing or removing a tick from your client makes you uneasy, all health professionals must be equipped for this possibility. Swift removal of a tick may prevent your client from becoming infected with a potentially serious disease. If you do find yourself in this situation and must remove a tick during a massage session, you will have provided a tremendous service to your client – and s/he will be forever thankful.