Ticks. For most people, these insidious little critters are something that most people avoid, but for Dan Wolff, inventor of the TickEase, the subject of ticks (and tick removal) is something of an obsession. Better known as “Tick Man Dan,” Wolff has been bitten more than 200 times—but has miraculously never contracted any tick-borne illnesses.
Wolff’s interest in all things ticks began in the early 90s, when a newfound enthusiasm for hiking, hunting, and fishing in the woods of eastern Massachusetts collided with an explosion of deer ticks in the area. Wolff was finding ticks everywhere—on his dog, in his laundry, even in his bed. As his fascination grew, so did his concern, and he began learning everything he could, including how to properly remove the pests. After testing out the tick removal tools available on the market—and finding they came up short—Wolff set out to create his own tool, and the TickEase was born.
In honor of National Inventors’ Day, we caught up with Tick Man Dan to learn more about the TickEase journey, Dan’s advocacy, and what makes him, well… tick.
Grommet: We have to ask—who came up with “Tick Man Dan”?
Dan Wolff: I actually came up with Tick Man Dan. It was, however, a combined effort. When I first started obsessing about ticks my friends (who thought this fascination was a bit weird) and my social media connections kept calling me “Dan the Tick Man’. To me this didn’t flow so well, so I changed it to Tick Man Dan.
G: Why the obsession with ticks?
DW: Perhaps I’m a bit unusual because I have a serious love/hate relationship with ticks… especially deer ticks. I love them and hate them at the same time. I am also either very lucky, or have superhuman powers. To my knowledge, and after more than 200 bites, I have never contracted a tick-borne infection. To me, this simply emphasizes what many researchers have discovered: everybody reacts differently when exposed to tick-borne pathogens. Some people like me, get bitten constantly yet never seem to get sick, others can become infected with Lyme disease, receive treatment and get better, while a small percentage of bite sufferers can get infected and their lives become completely ruined.
Growing up in the late seventies and early eighties in eastern Massachusetts, I don’t remember ever seeing a tick, let alone being bitten by one. It wasn’t until years later when I discovered a passion for the outdoors that opened my eyes to the serious problems that truly exist with these insidious yet fascinating parasites.
Back in the early 90s, I became interested in hiking, hunting and fishing and began spending a lot of time in the woods west of Boston, Massachusetts. I had heard about Lyme disease, but had never thought too much about it until I started finding ticks on my clothing. In the beginning, they seemed few and far between, but in the mid 90s, there appeared to be an explosion of deer tick numbers in my area. It seemed that every trip into the woods resulted in being literally covered with ticks. After one afternoon with my golden retriever Champ, I remember pulling more than 250 ticks off him! Lyme disease cases were climbing fast, as well as other tick-borne illnesses, and as a father of two boys and two dogs, my concern was rapidly on the increase.
There were ticks in my truck, my laundry room, on my kids, my dogs, and on several occasions, I have pulled my sheets back to go to sleep only to discover a tick in my bed!
At this point I became very concerned. I started researching ticks like crazy and became obsessed with them. How long have they been around? Do they have some purpose in life? Why are they such an effective vector? How do they bite? How do we prevent them from spreading? What’s the deal with proper removal? And that’s how my journey began.
I found many answers to these questions online and through other resources. However, there was one area in particular that interested me most—proper tick removal. There was information available, but it seemed that overall, this area was being neglected. I’m sure (like I did when I was first bitten), many people who discover ticks on themselves or their pets simply grab them with their fingers and pull them out. Other highly publicized methods included getting them to “back out” by burning, smothering, twisting, applying soap or Vaseline, and even freezing them!
G: What drove you to create the Tickease? What about other tick-removal tools was lacking, in your opinion?
DW: Well, I have to tell you when it comes to proper tick removal, simple is better. Quickly removing an embedded tick safely and completely is what you want to do. While feeding, a tick is sucking blood through a hollow mouth part directly into its system. Liquid contents of that tick include your blood, its saliva and other “ticky” types of fluids. Exposure to any of this is dangerous. Incorrectly removing an attached tick may result in increased exposure to the infectious fluids contained within. Agitating, squeezing the tick’s body incorrectly or tearing the tick is bad! All of the above-mentioned methods can result in increased exposure and should never be attempted.
Continued research showed that simply using very fine-tipped tweezers as close to the skin’s surface as possible, grasping firmly and pulling straight upwards in the direction the tick is feeding with a slow steady motion is the best tick removal method by far.
Here is an excerpt directly from the CDC’s web site:
“If you find a tick attached to your skin, there’s no need to panic. There are several tick removal devices on the market, but a plain set of fine-tipped tweezers will remove a tick quite effectively.”
I thought to myself, great! I’ll search online for tick removal devices and order one there. When I Googled “tick removers,” the results were numerous, but puzzling. The CDC and many other expert organizations state that pointy tweezers are the safest and most effective method for removal, yet only some non-tweezer type gadgets appeared on the screen. A plastic spoon, something that looked like strange plastic pliers, a green plastic twisting thing, a bottle-opening looking flat thing, but no tweezers! So, I actually purchased all of them, as well as a very expensive set of jeweler’s tweezers which had very sharp tips like the ones recommended by the CDC.
Over the next several months and through both nymphal and adult deer tick seasons, I had the opportunity to use them all on myself, my pets, and other tick bite victims. My findings were no surprise— the sharp tweezers worked best by far, and seemed much more suitable for smaller, un-engorged ticks.
Done correctly, the tick is removed intact, alive and undamaged. When attempting to remove nymphal stage deer ticks with the spoon and key devices, I was not successful. The ticks were so small, the slot in both these products was not able to catch the tick and caused the tool to slide over the top crushing the tick which is really bad, and in my opinion, could be dangerous to the user. I also had small ticks in my belly button and between my toes. The design of these 2 products made it simply impossible to remove ticks from these tight, crevice-like areas.
However, when I was removing large, engorged ticks from my pets, I did recognize that these slotted type tools worked well as long as the tick was located in a flat or easily accessible area of the animal. We all know that ticks always go to these spots… not! The design of the flat key device and the spoon simply limited access to places ticks like to feed. As far as the “twisting” device was concerned, one should never twist a tick out. Their mouthparts are barbed, not threaded, so it is completely unnecessary. Here is a direct quote from the CDC:
“Don’t twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the mouth-parts to break off and remain in the skin.”
So, I made the determination that fine-tipped tweezers were the best. Unfortunately, the good quality ones are quite expensive. I also saw the value of a well-designed scoop for quick and effective removal from animals. Now, I have never been thought of as a genius, but it seemed to me that, given the crisis of tick-borne illness and lack of an appropriate tick removal tool, someone should create the perfect remover with both methods. But who would attempt such a project? My father used to tell me, “if you want something done right, do it yourself” and “there’s no time like the present.” So, I set out to do just that!
G: We read on the blog that you’re a frequent speaker on the whole tick topic. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
DW: With so many people and their pets affected by ticks and tick-borne illness, education and awareness are really important. I have spent a tremendous amount of time trying to get my prevention message across. In the past, I’ve been able to speak to many different groups about tick behavior, including schools, boy scouts, conservation trustees, sporting clubs, retailers, councils on aging, gardeners, farmers, Army Corps of Engineers, and anyone else who would listen. I’ve also done local TV, radio, podcasts, blogs, and even co-hosted an internet radio show called “All Paws for the Cause” on WPET Pet Talk Radio.
G: Pets can get ticks, too—are they as dangerous for animals as they are to humans?
DW: Ticks can be very dangerous to pets, especially dogs. For some reason, a majority of cats do not seem to develop symptoms of Lyme disease. My black lab Charlie had Lyme disease and he was in bad shape. About 2 weeks after removing a deer tick from him, he suddenly became lethargic, stopped eating and his back legs basically stopped working. Fortunately, a normal course of antibiotics fixed him up within two or three days. According to my vet, my other dog Henry has been exposed to Anaplasmosis (another tick related infection), but never showed symptoms. It is always important to do frequent tick checks on your pets for their benefit and because they can also be a vehicle for ticks to get into your house and on you or your family members.
G: What are the top three tick removal tips you think everyone should know?
- Do a thorough tick check every time you come back from being outdoors—and don’t neglect your crevices!
- Put your clothes in a hot dryer for a minimum of 15 minutes after your tick check.
- Remove any attached ticks ASAP and do it properly with TickEase!
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