WASHINGTON -- As the summer season swings in to full gear, Army public health officials want to ensure that Department of Defense personnel are aware of a free service to help combat the threat of tick-borne diseases.

The Army Public Health Center (Provisional) provides a tick identification and testing service for DOD health clinics in the continental United States. This service is known as the DOD Human Tick Test Kit Program, and it serves as a "first alert" for tick-bite patients and their health care providers.

Although most ticks are not infected with human diseases, some ticks in the United States can carry such diseases as Lyme disease, ehrlichiosis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and viral diseases.

Army preventive medicine experts say that prompt removal of a tick is one way to reduce risk of disease transmission.

"When patients locate a tick on them, they should not panic and should take their time to remove the tick properly," said Ellen Stromdahl, an entomologist with the Army Public Health Center. "If you remove attached ticks promptly, you can prevent tick-borne disease."

In order to remove a tick, Stromdahl recommends certain guidelines.

"Remove the tick with tweezers," said Stromdahl. "Do not burn it or use soap, gasoline, Vaseline or other chemicals. Once the tick is removed, thoroughly cleanse the bite with alcohol and apply antibiotic ointment to the bite."

Most tick bites cause irritation and itching immediately, but Stromdahl said this does not indicate disease transmission.

Finally, Stromdahl says ticks that have been removed from people should be saved for identification and testing. Military personnel and DOD civilians should place the tick in a jar or ziplock bag and take it to the local military medical treatment facility, where health care providers will forward the tick to the Army Public Health Center (P) Tick-Borne Disease Laboratory.

Army public health professionals will then identify the tick and perform disease testing. The results of identification will be reported to the submitting medical treatment facility upon receipt of the tick, and test results (negative and positive) will be reported within a week.