Montreal

Quebec-based Detectick app helps identify which insects are ticks

Alexandre Guertin created Detectick, an app that can identify ticks — even ones that may have burrowed into your leg.

New app released as Lyme disease cases spike across province

Alexandre Guertin, a computer science student at the University of Sherbrooke, created the Detectick app, to help people identify ticks that may be carrying Lyme disease. (Gregory Todaro/CBC)

If you find a bug on your leg this summer that could be a tick, and you want to try to identify it, now there's an app to help you do just that.

Alexandre Guertin, a master's computer science student at the University of Sherbrooke, created Detectick, an app which can identify ticks through machine learning. He released the app earlier this month for both iOS and Android operating systems.

"When the tick is in you, it can be really confusing because the tick can be really small and sometime you don't see their leg, they're not always moving. I don't think everybody knows what a tick looks like," he said.

"It's not that obvious to identify it. Maybe when they're big, they're beautiful and outside of the skin, it can be easily identified, but there's some cases that it's not."

​Tick identification is top of mind for many Quebec residents, as the province's health ministry announced this week the number of identified cases of Lyme disease is on the rise.

There have been 65 reported cases so far this year, while there were 43 cases reported at the same time last year.

A bite from an infected tick may cause a bull's-eye-shaped rash on the skin, as well as flu-like symptoms. Lyme disease can be treated with short-course antibiotics in the early stages. If left untreated, it can cause serious problems including nerve damage and heart problems.

How it works

To identify an insect, open the app, take a photo of the insect, crop the picture, and then the app will analyze it and tell you if it thinks the insect is a tick. The app can even identify ticks that have burrowed into your skin.

Guertin said the app uses machine learning to match the photo you take with a set of images to determine if it's a tick.

"It's really for the community than anything else," said Guertin.

An example of how the Detectick app works. (Detectick)

While Detectick helps with identification, the app specifically warns users it is not a replacement for advice from a medical professional.

"We want people to consult [a doctor]," he said. "This app is made to make people consult, not to encourage people to not go." 

App users may also want to send their photos to the website Etick.ca. Researchers behind the site will analyze the ticks and determine if they're black-legged ticks, the only species that carries Lyme disease in Eastern Canada.

With files from CBC's Gregory Todaro

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