Citizen science informs human-tick exposure in the Northeastern United States

W. Tanner Porter, Peter J. Motyka, Julie Wachara, Zachary A. Barrand, Zahraa Hmood, Marya McLaughlin, Kelsey Pemberton, Nathan C. Nieto

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Background: Tick-borne disease is the result of spillover of pathogens into the human population. Traditionally, literature has focused on characterization of tick-borne disease pathogens and ticks in their sylvatic cycles. A limited amount of research has focused on human-tick exposure in this system, especially in the Northeastern United States. Human-tick interactions are crucial to consider when assessing the risk of tick-borne disease since a tick bite is required for spillover to occur. Methods: Citizen scientists collected ticks from the Northeastern US through a free nationwide program. Submitted ticks were identified to species, stage, and sex. Blacklegged ticks, Ixodes scapularis, were tested for the presence of Borrelia burgdorferi sensu lato (s.l.) and hard-tick relapsing fever Borrelia. Seasonality of exposure and the citizen science activity during tick exposure was recorded by the citizen scientist. A negative binomial model was fit to predict county level CDC Lyme disease cases in 2016 using citizen science Ixodes scapularis submissions, state, and county population as predictor variables. Results: A total of 3740 submissions, comprising 4261 ticks, were submitted from the Northeastern US and were reported to be parasitizing humans. Of the three species submitted, blacklegged ticks were the most prevalent followed by American dog ticks and lone star ticks. Submissions peaked in May with the majority of exposure occurring during every-day activities. The most common pathogen in blacklegged ticks was B. burgdorferi s.l. followed by hard-tick relapsing fever Borrelia. Negative binomial model performance was best in New England states followed by Middle Atlantic states. Conclusions: Citizen science provides a low-cost and effective methodology for describing the seasonality and characteristics of human-tick exposure. In the Northeastern US, everyday activities were identified as a major mechanism for tick exposure, supporting the role of peri-domestic exposure in tick-borne disease. Citizen science provides a method for broad pathogen and tick surveillance, which is highly related to human disease, allowing for inferences to be made about the epidemiology of tick-borne disease.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number9
JournalInternational Journal of Health Geographics
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 7 2019


  • Amblyomma
  • Borrelia
  • Citizen science
  • Dermacentor
  • Ixodes
  • Lyme disease
  • Tick-borne disease
  • Ticks

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Computer Science
  • General Business, Management and Accounting
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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