Tick season: Tracking the pesky carriers of Lyme disease

Quebecers are invited to send photos of black-legged ticks and details of where they were spotted to a new website monitoring the presence of ticks, set up by a Bishop's University researcher.

New website wants your photos to identify and locate black-legged ticks

Blacklegged ticks, also known as deer ticks, carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. (AP Photo/Victoria Arocho, File)

A biology professor at Bishop's University is asking for the public's help to identify where ticks are crawling around in Quebec.

Dr. Jade Savage helped launch the website, in collaboration with the National Public Health Institute of Quebec (INSPQ), as well as the Public Health Agency of Canada. 

"In Canada, information on ticks is not readily available. It is collected but is often summarized in scientific reports," Savage told CBC's Quebec AM.

Savage said she hopes the new tool will make it easier for people to get the information they need.

The website allows citizens to submit photos and the exact location of ticks they come across.

A team of experts will analyze the ticks and will identify whether it is a Ixodes scapularis or black-legged tick.

Potential threat for Lyme disease

The black-legged tick or ''deer tick,'' is the only species that carries Lyme disease in Eastern Canada.

The symptoms vary from localized infections, to fever and headaches. They can also lead to neurological and cardiac problems if untreated.

Public health officials in Quebec started releasing data on the presence of the black-legged tick in 2015.
That year, 160 cases of Lyme disease were reported in the province, a steady increase compared to only 32 cases in 2011.

Dr. Jade Savage helped launch the website The photos submitted to the website will be studied by a team at Bishop's University. (Submitted by Bishop's University)
A map on the INSPQ website shows which regions of the province have the highest risk of contracting Lyme disease.

The only municipality considered high risk is Farnham, in the Eastern Townships.

But Savage says this doesn't mean people visiting or living in these "hot spots" should be overly worried.

"If I walk in the streets, I will not pick up a tick in Farnham," she said. "I think it's important that people understand where they will pick up ticks, in what kind of habitat they live in."

Savage says the entries will be geo-referenced, allowing the public to see where the ticks were found.

What to do in case of bite

"If you find a tick on your skin you need to keep it and bring it to your doctor in case any symptoms come up," Savage said.

Symptoms can occur between three and 30 days after a bite.

Right now, the Haute-Yamaska and Brome-Missisquoi​ are the only regions in Quebec where people should ask for preventive antibiotic treatment if they are bitten by a tick.

Otherwise, public health recommends people seek medical help only if symptoms appear.

The website could be available in other Canadian provinces by 2018.