NEEDHAM, Mass. — It's safe to say most of us don't want ticks anywhere near our families and our pets. But for a Massachusetts man, being around ticks is a way of life.
Dan Wolff spent years inventing tweezers designed to remove ticks at any stage in their life cycle. But he says the bottom line for his growing business is raising awareness about ticks and the diseases they carry.
To say Wolff is "tick obsessed" is an understatement. He has images of ticks on his truck, his watch, phone case, clothes, and even deer tick tattoos.
But there is a method to his madness -- the ticks get people talking and some of the conversations may surprise you.
"They come up and say 'Hey look at that spider, that's not a spider, it's a tick,' and ticks carry Lyme disease," Wolff explained.
Wolff, who calls himself "Tick Man Dan," invented TickEase: two-sided tweezers designed to remove embedded ticks from people and pets. The idea behind the million-dollar business started more than two decades ago after he found an embedded tick on his 10-year-old son.
"Fortunately, my son never developed any symptoms, thank goodness," Wolff said.
Wolff's father was a prominent infectious disease doctor, so he knew prompt and proper tick removal was key in preventing infection for himself and his family. Because there wasn't an effective tool besides one-sided tweezers to remove ticks on the market, he decided to make his own in his basement.
"I had a roll of tin foil and I cut it and molded and ended up with my first prototype," Wolff said.
One side of the tool has angled fine-tipped tweezers to remove ticks, even at their smallest life stage, including nymphs. On the other side is a V-shaped scoop to remove ticks, including engorged ones from pets.
TickEase is sold in more than 300 online and retail stores across the country.
Beth Carrison, who lives in Shapleigh, is a long-time TickEase customer. Carrison has Lyme disease and Alpha Gal Syndrome, a type of food allergy to red meat and other products made from mammals and is caused by a Lone Star tick bite. The condition can cause burning rashes and other symptoms.
"When I eat ham or any pork it's really bad for me, I will go into full-born anaphylaxis," Carrison explained.
She relies on TickEase to remove ticks as soon she spots them on her family and her dog, Maggie. TickEase also sells bandanas for dogs treated with permethrin to protect against ticks questing in the brush and grass.
The company also sells a Tick Kit, equipped with TickEase, alcohol pads, antibiotic ointment packets, a magnifier, instructions for obtaining a university-based health risk assessment, and discounted laboratory tick testing.
Wolff says building his business goes hand-in-hand with awareness about tickborne illnesses, which the CDC says infect nearly half a million people in the U.S. every year.
For real-time tracking data on Lyme disease and other tickborne infections from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, click here.