Bob Oley, PE, MSPH
Lyme and Tick-Borne Disease Prevention Expert
Public Health and Site Consultant

Lyme Disease, Deer Ticks, and Outdoor Workers

It’s that time of the year again, those spring and summer months, when you are most likely to be bitten by a deer tick and become infected with Lyme disease. Not only do deer tick bites put you at risk for Lyme disease, but also other potentially debilitating infections including babesiosis, anaplasmosis, bartonella, tularemia, tick paralysis, and viruses.


Ticks are parasites which survive by feeding on the blood of a multitude of vertebrate hosts including you and your fellow workers. Although the deer tick season is year round, the peak of the deer tick’s activity begins in May and continues throughout the summer into the early fall. Nymphal deer ticks, the 2nd stage of a two-year life cycle (larva, nymph, and adult), are actively looking for a host during the spring and summer months. And once they attach onto you, they are very difficult to detect due to their extremely small size (as big as a poppy seed). It will be from the nymphal tick bite that you will most likely contract Lyme disease and/or another co-infection.


Deer ticks seek hosts by a behavior called “questing.” Questing ticks crawl up the stems of grass or small bushes, or perch on the edges of leaf litter with their front legs extended. When your body or clothing comes in contact with the extended legs of a tick, it will, in one split second, grab onto you and search for a suitable place on your body to attach and take its blood meal. Nymphal deer ticks will remain attached for several days until they become fully engorged with your blood and drop off. They then eventually molt into the slightly larger (size of a sesame seed) adult ticks which also look for a blood meal during the succeeding months.


Not all deer ticks that bite you will infect you with Lyme disease or one of the other tick-borne diseases. Unfortunately, for anyone working outdoors, a very high percentage of ticks carry one or several of these diseases. Removing ticks promptly can prevent the transmission of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases, the initial symptoms of which can include headache, fever, chills, fatigue, malaise, stiff neck, and muscle and joint pain, all of which are very much flu-like in nature. The appearance of a bull’s eye rash in the area of a tick bite is diagnostic proof of a Lyme disease infection, though most people do not get it, or if they do, are just not aware of it.


If you discover a tick attached to you, use pointed tweezers to grab the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull the tick straight out, taking care not to twist or squish the attached tick. Finally, wash the bite site and apply an antiseptic. If you possibly can, send the tick (dead or alive and in a zip lock bag) to a tick testing lab to see whether it is infected with any disease organisms. A reputable lab in this area is the Northeast Infectious Disease Diagnostic Laboratory located at East Stroudsburg University (website: You should also seek the immediate assistance of your health care provider for advice on initiating prophylactic treatment.


If you are working outdoors, it is strongly recommended that you wear tick repellent clothing. The clothing should be treated with permethrin, an insecticide which repels and kills ticks and which has been approved by the EPA for use on clothing apparel. You can treat your own clothing and footwear, or purchase pre-treated clothing with the proprietary Insect Shield label from suppliers such as: REI, LLBean, ExOfficio, Orvis, etc. Wearing an EPA-approved insect repellent on exposed skin parts will also provide added protection, but by itself, does not work as effectively as tick repellent clothing.


Another very important tick-borne disease prevention measure is to regularly examine yourself for ticks and promptly remove them. Regular tick checks at the end of the work day provide increased protection against Lyme disease and other tick-borne co-infections.