You’ve just been out enjoying B.C.’s springtime weather when you notice a tick has bitten you. Now what? You’re in luck – there’s an app for that.
This month, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control and eTick launched a free tick identification service to help determine the risk a found tick poses. As springtime inspires more people and their pets to get outside, a risk to both humans and animals lurks in B.C.’s outdoors: the western blacklegged tick, which can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Ticks can be found year-round, but are more likely to bite from March to June.
Dr. Jade Savage of Bishop’s University developed the app with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada. First, users send in a photo of a tick, whether it was found on a person, pet or in the environment. Then a trained professional will review the photo to determine whether a bite could lead to Lyme disease and if more steps are necessary. The tick should be kept in a secure location for at least five days in case there are more questions or it needs to be tested.
Gathered information, including when and where the photo was taken, will be used to create tools for the public to use. Maps will show tick information organized by species, year or region of Canada. In 2021, eTick confirmed 14 western blacklegged ticks reported on the lower Sunshine Coast.
The small insect ranges from one millimetre to 10 millimetres (about the size of a sesame seed), but the risk it could pose is much larger. If untreated, Lyme disease could develop complications months or years after contraction and can cause bouts of arthritis, severe joint pain and swelling, and chronic neurological complaints. While Lyme disease can be treated successfully with two to four weeks of antibiotics, early detection is key.
Lyme disease became nationally noticeable in 2009, the BC CDC website states. Data collected by BC health authorities since then shows a case count ranging from seven to a high of 40 (in 2016) per year between 2010 and 2019.
In B.C., the rate of ticks and Lyme disease remains low, and less than one per cent of western blacklegged ticks submitted to the BC Provincial Health Laboratory were infected with the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. While western blacklegged ticks exist throughout the province, most of the ticks carrying Lyme disease are located in southwestern B.C.: the Sunshine Coast, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Greater Vancouver, and the Fraser Valley. But climate change could cause the expansion of ticks in B.C., the BC CDC’s website states.
In 2021, a pilot version of the app identified 45 per cent of the submitted tick photos as the west blacklegged tick. According to the eTick website as of April 11, 23,946 ticks have been vetted by the app.
The photographs and accompanying information can also be used by researchers and public health officials understand the risks of Lyme disease.
Find more information at eTick.ca and at bccdc.ca.