Prevent Tick Bites: Prevent Lyme Disease

  • Smith-Fiola, Deborah

Lyme Disease is spread by the tiny deer tick. Ticks feed on blood, and infected ticks transmit the disease as they feed. Although the deer tick prefers to feed on wild animals, especially mice, birds, opossum, raccoon, and deer, they will also feed on dogs, cats, livestock, and humans. When people visit or live near deer tick habitats, they run a high risk of contracting Lyme Disease. For your own safety, you should become familiar with tick habits and habitats, and you should learn how to prevent tick bites.


Deer ticks prefer to live in the woods. Dense, mature woods with a thick undergrowth of shrubs and small trees are their favorite habitat (85%). They also are found, to a lesser degree, along the edge of the woods, where the woods meet lawns or fields. Very few (4-8%) are found in lawns, because lawns that are kept mowed are too hot and dry to sustain the tiny deer tick. Ticks prefer the cool, moist woodlands where they have a better chance of finding an animal host.

Where you live, your hobbies, and your habits may influence your risk of a tick bite. Notice in particular these high-risk factors:

  • Yards surrounded by dense woods.
  • Birdbaths, birdfeeders.
  • Outdoor pets that come indoors.
  • Woodpiles, brushpiles, stone or rock fences.
  • Viewing deer from a window.
  • Swingsets, treehouses in the woods.
  • Outdoor occupations: landscapers, utility line workers, farmers, etc.
  • Outdoor recreation: fresh water fishing, camping, hiking, hunting, etc.

Many of these factors encourage wildlife near the home, and these animals may carry ticks. Mice in particular are known hosts of immature deer ticks and carriers of Lyme Disease. Reduce, remove, or avoid these risk factors as much as possible.


Outdoor pursuits need not be discontinued as long as precautions are taken to prevent a tick bite:

  • Wear light-colored clothing (ticks are easier to see).
  • Wear long pants tucked into socks.
  • Avoid tall grass and shrubby areas.
  • Widen trails through woods (to 6 feet).
  • Remove brushpiles.
  • Keep turfgrass mowed.
  • Thin out low shrub vegetation in woods.
  • Wear a tick repellent.

Repellents contain the active ingredient permethrin (Duranon, Permethrin Tick Repellent, Permanone), or N,N-diethyl-meta-tolumide, usually called DEET (Off, Cutters, Muskol, etc.) Follow label directions. These products repel 82-100% of ticks.


 Seventy percent of all Lyme Disease cases occur from the bite of the immature (nymph) deer tick (See Figure 1). Before feeding, nymphs are the size of a poppy seed with a dark head and translucent body. After feeding, they swell and appear dark gray and round, about the size of a mustard seed.

Adult deer ticks are the size of a sesame seed before feeding; females have a black head and brick red abdomen. After feeding, they turn gray and swell to the size of a sunflower seed kernel.

Deer ticks are active all year round, as long as the temperature is over 35°F. Peak activity months are May-June (nymphs), and October-November (adults).

Ask your county extension agent for a free copy of the bulletin "Protect Yourself From Ticks and Lyme Disease" for specific ways to identify different ticks. The Lone Star tick may have a slight involvement in Lyme Disease transmission; the American Dog Tick is not known to be involved in Lyme Disease transmission.


Ticks don't fly, jump, or drop from trees. They inhabit shrubby vegetation (nymphs: 4-6" vegetation; adults: waist-high vegetation) and wait for an animal to brush by. They then grasp the animals fur or skin, and typically crawl up the leg. Ticks will wander on the body for 30-60 minutes before they insert their mouthparts and begin to feed. Infected Deer Ticks must feed for at least 12 - 24 Hours before they can begin to transmit the Lyme Disease bacteria. Therefore you should remove ticks as soon as possible. Take a shower after outdoor activity and check your body thoroughly, paying close attention to the armpits, the groin, and neck. Use the buddy system! Look for ticks every night, especially if you have young children.

Remove ticks with tweezers only (bent, "needle-nose" tweezers are best). Do not use alcohol, nail polish, hot matches, petroleum jelly, or other methods to remove ticks. These methods may actually traumatize ticks causing them to regurgitate gut contents, which may include the Lyme Disease bacteria.


If avoiding tick-infested areas is not possible, pesticide use may be justified. Research has shown that granular insecticides may provide longer lasting controls than liquid sprays. Read and follow all directions on the label. Some insecticides authorized for tick control include:


Granular insecticides should be applied once in low-risk areas (late May/early June) and twice in high-risk sites (mid-May and early June). An early October treatment is optional. Focus treatment along the edge of the woods and 15 feet into the woods. These treatments have resulted in over 90 percent control in research trials.

Liquid insecticides should be sprayed on vegetation until they run off. Apply in mid-May, early June, and mid-June. Sprays targeting adult deer ticks may be applied after leaves have dropped from the trees, from November to April.

Damminix is a product that provides insectide-laced nesting material to mice. It kills immature ticks attached to mice in their burrows. Place it only in areas where mice frequent. Damminix may also be used in combination with the above insecticides.

Publication #: FS637

This document is apart of a series from the Rutgers Cooperative Extension, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. Publication date: September 1992.

Deborah Smith-Fiola, County Agricultural Agent, Ocean County, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, NJ 08903.

Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More