You found a tick. Now what?
Credit: Mark Matcho

1. First, don't panic

"It's not like you get a tick and you instantly have a disease," says Amesh Adalja, MD, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Pittsburgh. Depending on how many bacteria are in the tick, it could take anywhere from 12 to 72 hours to infect you. "A tick will become engorged as it ingests more blood, so in general, the more engorged it is, the longer it's been there," says Dr. Adalja.

2. Grab your tweezers

There are a ton of myths about what will work—nail polish, Vaseline, a lit match (ouch)—but don't fall for any of these. Aim tweezers as close to the skin as possible and pull the tick straight out. Then leave the site alone: "You can injure your skin if you keep digging around," says Dr. Adalja.

3. Stash the bugger

Remember: The tick has to be a carrier of disease and be attached for a while to make you sick. But holding on to it will make it easier to test if needed. Use a jar or ziplock bag.

4. Check yourself out

Be alert for flu-like symptoms or a rash of any kind; if you develop either in the following few weeks, talk to your doctor. Look for rashes everywhere, not only in the area where you found the tick, because another one may have bitten you without your spotting it. Be sure to examine your armpits and groin, lift up your hair to search your scalp, and check your backside in a mirror or with a partner's help. Rashes can fade fairly quickly, so snap a photo if you're not able to get to the doctor's office for a couple of days.