The fine and ancient art of tick removal, which my grandmother taught my mother and my mother taught me, involves the use of a suffocating agent, such as methylated spirits or oil (whiskey will also do if you can bear the wastage), or something to put the wind up the creature in question, such as the hot head of a recently-extinguished match. The aim is to make the blighter let go. There’s no point pulling it off because its head remains with the jaws clamped in position causing a maddening itch for days.
Various of my relatives are known to trawl each other’s bodies after an afternoon in the garden or a wander through the bush, to ensure no tick is stuck on for too long. Quite apart from looking disgusting, with their tiny bloated bodies, they are itchy and can leave a nasty sore when they eventually drop off due to engorgement.
Removing them may be a drawn out business but there are generally no real hazards involved. (Go to a medical practitioner if you experience flu-like symptoms). So I was unprepared for the response I received when I asked for some oil to get rid of the tick I found near my armpit one morning in Germany during my last visit.
My hosts kicked into action. “Do not touch it,” admonished one, wide-eyed with alarm.
“I’ll call around the doctors to get the earliest possible appointment,” said the other.
Everyone’s daily schedules were compared to come up with a roster of available translators for me. School drop off, meetings with clients and colleagues, business phone calls all had to be factored in. The BB would be around until nine then had to dash, so one of our hosts took the next shift. The morning was apportioned. That I might have to wait until the afternoon was apparently not an idea to dwell upon. It seemed that my continuing good health hinged on gaining the vital appointment so the tick could be removed and medicine provided. If we attempted this delicate operation ourselves, the tick could pump me with toxins.
It was just a tick!
Ah, but this is Germany. And these are not any old ticks. The list of tick-borne diseases in this country is long and multi-syllabic. It includes TBE (tick -borne encephalitis) and Lyme borreliosis. Some of the diseases can be very serious, even fatal.
We waited on tenterhooks for the surgeries to open. In the meantime, I decided to spruce up a bit for the doctor by having a careful shower with my little companion. Checking on it when I finished, I was jolted by apprehension. The damn thing had disappeared. Was I now a walking time-bomb of affliction or had it simply dropped off through lack of interest without bothering to harm me?
A doctor friend advised us over the phone that it was probably the latter but to take any malaise over the next month seriously. Stories from native Germans have it that debilitating conditions can arise even years later.
On this trip, I was shown the splendid device above. It is a tick remover and was purchased for use on the family dog. Open the pincers by pushing up from the bottom, grasp the tick, turn and pull. Works like a charm. I’m not sure if it’s for use on humans.
To minimise the risk of tick bite when in the forest, wear long sleeves and long trousers (tucked into socks), which can be treated with insecticide sprays such as permethrin. Apply insect repellent to exposed skin. Interestingly, one should also avoid consuming unpasteurized dairy products. TBE is found in many European countries.