What is a Tick Testing Service? Do I Need One and How Do I Choose?

An Interview with Tick Expert Dan Wolff

Ticks are endemic in the Northeast, but they can be found almost everywhere, even along the beaches of Northern California! Some ticks carry dangerous illnesses like Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. What should you do with a tick once you remove it? Should you use a tick testing service? Our resident Tick expert Dan Wolff has the details and some great suggestions.

Deer tick on grass stalk

What is a tick testing service?

Tick testing services (laboratories) can determine if a tick is carrying insect-borne diseases like Lyme disease. If you find a tick on yourself or someone else, or a pet, you need to remove it. Next, you can use a tick identification service like TickSpotters (a free service from TickEncounter.org at the University of Rhode Island) to identify what kind of tick it is and how long it has been feeding.
Based on that identification, you may want to send it to a tick testing laboratory to determine if it’s carrying any dangerous diseases, which is something TickSpotters cannot tell you.
There are many laboratories around the country that will test ticks to see if they are carrying pathogens. Some are affiliated with universities and government agencies; some are independently owned. Pricing varies, and in some cases, may be fairly inexpensive or free. 
It should be noted, that while tick testing can be a helpful resource, it should not be used as a substitute for physician diagnosis of disease.
Tick Testing Services Recommended by TickEncounter:

Steps for Identifying and Testing a Tick

  1. After removing a tick, it’s important to identify and (potentially) send it in for testing.
  2. To identify the tick, Dan Wolff recommends TickSpotters. Take a picture, upload it to their website, and they’ll identify it. Their assessment will include information and recommendations based on the type of tick, its stage of development, your location, and how long the tick may have been feeding.
  3. That will let you know if you should send it to a tick testing lab to get tested.
  4. If you put the tick in a Ziploc bag it will die since it's outside of its natural environment. No need to freeze it, put it in alcohol or Listerine, etc.
  5. There are many laboratories that will test ticks.
  6. The cost depends on how many pathogens you want to test for. It is typically $50 for a basic test. At TickReport.com you can get $5 off with code TICKEASE.
  7. Other testing services may be free depending on their funding source.
  8. It just so happens that Dan will be offering a new Tick Kit soon. The kit answers the question, “I found a tick. What do I do now?” and provides the resources and tools to easily take the recommended steps!

Tick Testing Services, an Interview with Tick Expert Dan Wolff

[Related Post: The Best Ways to Remove Ticks]

[Related Post: The Spread of Ticks and Lyme Disease]

[Related Post: Ticks and Your Dog - with Dan Wolff]

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Transcript of the Interview

Mark at Insect Shield

We’re here today with Dan Wolf, Tick Man Dan, as he is known, to talk about different testing services for ticks. So you know, when you get a tick, the first thing you want to do is remove it. And Dan's got a tool for that. And he's an expert on checking for ticks. It’s a big deal. You have an excellent video on checking for ticks. We will include that video at the end of this post.

You've also got a lot of good material on your YouTube channel, so people can find that. TickEase is your product. Find out more about that at TickEase.com.

So what I wanted to ask you about today is the testing services that are out there because they seem to be proliferating, and a lot of them are more academically oriented. But I wanted to get your take on that.

I know you've worked with some testing services yourself. And you even have a testing kit now. Is that right? That's designed to facilitate getting those ticks off and sending them in for testing. So maybe we can talk about that. 

Tick Man Dan

Happy to do that. 

Mark at Insect Shield

Okay, awesome. So you remove this tick, and I actually read something on the Internet and it said, How do I kill ticks instantly on my dog? And the answer was that you could either A) put it in rubbing alcohol, or B dowse it in classic amber Listerine. I don’t know how they arrived at the classic amber Listerine, like apparently, other types of Listerine wouldn't work. And then certainly other brands wouldn't, wouldn't do the job. 

But really, rather than dousing it in some chemicals that's going to kill it, there's something better to do, which is to send it for testing. So how would I go about that? And why would I want to do that? 

Tick Man Dan

Well, first of all, thanks. Thanks, Mark. It's good to be here. As always, I really appreciate what Insect Shield has done and continues to do with helping people prevent illness with your products. So yeah, testing is an interesting thing. So you can't get to the testing until you have a tick to submit. So the first thing you want to do, again, you want to make sure that you locate ticks on your body by doing thorough tick checks. And if you're in endemic areas, and you know, basically when the activities kind of peak and, and valley during the year, you might be able to get a better assessment of yourself and find more ticks.

Like right now spring activity is very high. We still have leftover adults from last year, we're transitioning into nymphal stage ticks, which are the tiny ones. We'll reach a lull in mid-summer and then it'll peak again in the fall when the newly transitioned adults begin to appear. But that doesn't mean let your guard down. The important thing is to check every day if you're outside in a tick endemic area. 

And you know, the video that you're referring to kind of goes through everything where it's for yourself, your family members, your kids and your pets. And that can be found on the YouTube channel if you search TickEase. And if you like this stuff, please subscribe. But there's a lot of graphic demonstrations of tick removals and a very informative how to do tick checks for those exposed. 

So you know, you can't get a tick tested unless you have it. So you have to know how to remove it. And the best thing to do is always keep in mind. You want to do prompt and proper removal. There's a lot of gadgets out there that will be calling themselves tick removers. I have personally been bitten about 220 times by deer ticks, I've also had the opportunity to remove more than 3000 live ticks. So that was kind of how I came up with the idea that hey, let's just invent a tick tool that works. And it's not complicated, you know, no frills and all that stuff. I did come up with a design, which has a very, very sharp tweezer on one side for smaller ticks. And it has a scoop, which is perfect for removing larger ticks particularly on animals.

You brought up the point where people are asking about how do I kill ticks instantly. And my first question is why? Why do you want to know that? Sure. You don't actually want to. 

Mark at Insect Shield 

Why do you want to kill the tick? Would you smash it or… it's not necessary right? I mean, if you want to send it in though to a Testing Service, what do you do with it? The first guy that I saw said he puts them in the freezer. He puts them in a bag and puts them in the freezer. But you do want to preserve it right? Because you're going to, what are you going to do with it, you're going to take a picture of it or put it in a bag and send it by mail. So the different options right to you got to find a service. So let's talk about that a little bit. What How would you find one of these services?

Tick Man Dan

The important thing, first and foremost is to decide whether or not it warrants sending in for testing. And that's something that you the consumer, the victim has to decide for themselves, we can't really give you that.

You know, that decision. So it's important. Again, I've mentioned this in other talks that we've had to identify that tick, because I know a dog tick in Massachusetts, for example, is not going to be as dangerous as a deer tick of this, you know, an adult stage deer tick. So you have to decide whether or not you want to submit the tick. So there is a website at TickEncounter.org under [the link] “TickSpotters” that will give you a free identification. So once you get to identification, they might even make a recommendation, [like] hey, this is an adult deer tick that's been feeding on you for more than a day.

It's likely it's carrying some sort of pathogens, you may want to consider getting it tested. Okay, so at that point, you want to say, Okay, well, where do I go to get it tested? Well check with your state

Mark at Insect Shield

Just to ask, How are you getting that tick? Is it a photo that you take of it and send to TickEncounter? 

Tick Man Dan

Yes, yes. And they're pretty good. Unless the tick is like, totally destroyed or mashed up, or in small little pieces, they can take and give you a good idea on it. Right? They’ll tell you if they can't.

So what you said we were talking about, why do you want to kill the tick? The tick, first of all, ticks don't survive too long outside of their regular habitats, which is under the leaf litter and moist environments. So if you put it in a Ziploc bag, in a day or so it's dead anyway. Okay not to freeze it. You don't have to freeze it. No. and you know, some substances, I mean, I'm thinking about your Listerine comment. And I think that the reason that good old amber Listerine might work is because it has 25% alcohol in it, right? Some of the other mouthwashes and Listerine are alcohol free now. Yeah. And although that ticks can survive, you know, days underwater, so you know, I mean, unless it's a personal vendetta against your tick. 

Mark at Insect Shield

You may be quite upset at the tick. 

Tick Man Dan

I would say just leave it, it's gonna die, probably more torture if you just let it desiccate or dry out. 

Mark at Insect Shield

Right, if you're giving it alcohol, I mean, right? That might be pleasant.

[Yes.] …actually have a couple of cocktails. And I mean, they don't feel anything but a slow painful death in a baggie. Yeah. So keep that in mind. So it's not necessary to kill that tick. You know, intentionally or forcefully, right off the bat. It will die on its own. So you don't have to freeze it, you don't have to do anything like that. As long as the tick, you have some portion of that tick, particularly the abdomen, or even some pieces they can test it, because it's a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. And it's a DNA based test. So any part of that tick will suffice. So it is actually highly accurate. The only variables come from how the specimens are handled and how that assay is, I guess presented, but if done correctly, it's very, very accurate. Okay, unlike the diagnostics we have for humans, the tick testing is, is pretty good. If you have a good solid laboratory that has some experience. 

Mark at Insect Shield

And is TickEncounter going to do this [the PCR test]? 

Tick Man Dan

[No. TickEncounter will do an assessment to identify what kind of tick it is, and how long it was feeding. The longer a tick has been feeding, the more engorged it gets, and the longer it is attached, the more likely it is to transmit harmful fluids into your body.] 

Mark at Insect Shield

So you take a picture of the tick and send it to TickEncounter. It's free. And they're going to tell you [what kind of tick it is]. And it sounds like they're quite accurate. I mean, they don't miss very often in terms of picking the type of tick. 

Tick Man Dan

That's correct. They'll be able to ID most of the time. Okay. And then they can make recommendations, like, as I said, based on your location, the stage of the tick, how long it was feeding. And those bits of information are all compiled to give you an assessment, you know, nymphal stage dog tick feeding for two hours. And in Massachusetts, it might be considered low risk, fully adult grown, you know, deer tick in Massachusetts feeding for 12 hours or 24 hours, you know, high risk. And what are your options? Well, you can take some prophylactic antibiotics, you can talk to your doctor [and/or] you can send the ticket for testing. 

So I've had a lot of people this spring, it seems like it's been a very active year. So far more so than in the past few years, people have called me up. And I had three people yesterday, with encounters that needed some advice. So I was able to help out and even facilitate testing for one of my wife's friends over the weekend. And she just got results back. And unfortunately, that adult deer tick that she pulled that we pulled out, did test positive for Lyme, and for anaplasmosis, which are both bacterial infections that can be difficult to deal with, you know, based on how your body might react to it. And generally speaking, there are many different labs that will perform these types of tick tests now, and it seems to be increasing. 

There are University based programs, there are public health based laboratories, there are for profit labs, it all depends on what again, what you feel comfortable with. And some of these state labs and departments, State Departments of health might actually have subsidized or free programs. So before you go and spend your money, you might want to check and see if you qualify for a discounted or a free program, right? Over the past five or six years, a laboratory that was originally based out of the University of Massachusetts, called TickReport.com. And it is a fee based program. 

They have had subsidized programs from the state of Massachusetts on occasion, but right now, it is a non-subsidized laboratory. And there are different levels of services that you get, the more types of infectious agents you want to identify, the higher the cost, but the basic standard testing, which I think is adequate for Massachusetts, and Northeast residents, or you can send these sticks in from anywhere, is $50. And that's pretty good. It's pretty reasonable, I think. And if you use promo code TICKEASE, I can save you an additional $5. So that's, that's important as well. Every little bit helps. But they are so accurate. And I really like the fact that they guarantee a 72 hour turnaround from when they receive the tick. So that's my preferred group, there's another group here, that's a for-profit. And they are now have branched off on their own because of the restrictive nature of the university, which I guess furloughed, their employees twice during the pandemic.

You know, it was difficult for them to operate under that, that umbrella. So I'm going to continue to use them. The laboratory director is a friend of mine, and we went through the whole process. So yeah, it's, it's good. And if you have any questions, or anybody has any questions, they can certainly reach out to my website. I actually in my product [the tick kit] have testing instructions that will show you how to submit that tick for testing. 

Mark at Insect Shield

Oh, right. So that comes in your in your TickEase tick kit product as well, because I wanted to ask you, you have you've been working on a tick kit. 

Tick Man Dan

Yeah. Right. 

Mark at Insect Shield

Which, I don't know if you have that handy. But that that is something that is interesting. There's more to it than just instructions, right? 

Tick Man Dan

Yeah, It helps people who asked the question, once they have a tick, find a tick on someone What do I do now? And I will help them step by step through the process of what to do.

I am actually putting my deposit down to my factory today on my initial order and this has been in the works for like five years now. I've been putting this together but this is a premium kit. Keep that in mind. The difference is that it actually would be practical, functional, and long lasting, waterproof, in a hard case that you can keep around for a long time. And it will have access to health risk assessment at TickEncounter. It'll have instructions on tick testing, it'll have the TickEase tick remover, a magnifying glass, alcohol pads, antibiotic and all that good stuff in it. So it's something good to have around. 

Mark at Insect Shield

Who is that geared toward? 

Tick Man Dan

Specifically is it more humans than animals.

Mark at Insect Shield

Okay, because the dog can't order that online, right? 

Tick Man Dan

Right. They're not they're not going to be able to with their paws. It's hard for them.

Mark at Insect Shield

Maybe they have the voice recognition thing. But, um, yeah, so that sounds very interesting. Where would people look for more info on that? Is that going to be up on your website? 

Tick Man Dan

It will. We will be doing announcements to all of our resellers and it will be listed on our site and we'll do some videos on YouTube, plus we'll have it on Walmart.com. 

Mark at Insect Shield

Well, it seems like maybe some of the Lyme organizations have their preferred providers for tick analysis. I haven't looked into that. But this, this is kind of a growing area of interest. And obviously, Lyme awareness is a big deal.

So hopefully Insect Shield has the protection angle covered, and I think we do a pretty good job. And in terms of our clothing, I'm still surprised to find lists of, you know, how to prevent ticks, that don't include pre-treated clothing. Because it seems so obvious that pre-treated socks and pants, tuck those into the socks. I mean, you know, why would you not want to do that? And it's not that expensive. 

Tick Man Dan

I recommend [Insect Shield] highly, hands down the best prevention against ticks. 

Mark at Insect Shield

Well, you know, it's always a pleasure, Dan. I love talking with you about ticks. I think the first interview that we did, we wound up with about 50 minutes of discussion, and I was instructed to cut that back a little bit for subsequent interviews. But fortunately, you know, there's plenty to talk about. We look forward to having you back again. 

Tick Man Dan

Okay, I will be ready. Anytime you are, and we want everybody of course to take care of themselves. 

Mark

Thank you. Yes. 

Dan

And don't neglect your crevasses, and use the TickEase product.

How to Check Yourself Properly for Ticks