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New program asks B.C. residents to upload photos of ticks for online identification

It’s springtime and ticks are back. BCCDC and eTick are introducing an app to help identify ticks that carry disease.
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​As spring weather emerges, so do many kinds of ticks that can bite humans and pets. In B.C., one species of concern for public and animal health is the western blacklegged tick (Ixodes pacificus) because it can carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. 

The B.C. Centre for Disease Control has joined forces with eTick, a free and easy tick photo identification service. Identifying ticks accurately can help researchers, healthcare providers and the public better understand the risks of contracting Lyme disease in the province. 

Free tool helps identify ticks
eTick - developed by Dr. Jade Savage at Bishop’s University with funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada - invites Canadians to submit photos of ticks for identification. Users can upload images either though their website (eTick.ca) or the free app available on Apple App Store and Google Play Store. 

The photos are reviewed and identified by trained personnel. Information is then provided about whether a bite could lead to a tick-borne disease and if any further steps are needed. Ticks found on people, pets or in the environment are all eligible for photo submissions. 

The tick photo information is combined with other data such as collection date and location, to create tools such as maps. This allows eTick users to also visualize collated tick information by species, year or region of Canada. In B.C., a pilot version of eTick was started in 2021. So far, nearly 45 per cent of the tick photos submitted to eTick by BC residents were Ixodes pacificus. The other species included Dermacentor spp. (54 per cent), commonly found on dogs, and Ixodes angustus (one per cent).  

Lyme disease remains low in B.C.

Tests of ticks submitted to the BC Provincial Health Laboratory show just under one in 100 Ixodes pacificus is infected with the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. While the geographic distribution of ticks has remained stable and Lyme disease in people has remained very low in B.C., there are concerns that this may shift as the climate changes. 

Certain types of ticks may expand into new areas and carry with them the Lyme bacteria or other new pathogens. Understanding which ticks are in what regions is key to helping B.C. residents understand health risks from ticks while also contributing to tick surveillance efforts in the province. 

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