Be A Citizen Scientist: Help Track Tick Activity

If you have noticed more Michiganders complaining about ticks recently, you’re not alone. During the last few summers, it seems as if people in the state are finding ticks on themselves and on their dogs/pets more than ever before.  In recent years, ticks have expanded their active season, and have been found earlier in the spring and in increasing numbers. It’s a trend that is worrisome, particularly with the surge of people enjoying outdoor recreation during the pandemic and warmer summer months.  

Humans and many species of animals are susceptible to tick-transmitted diseases, most notably Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the US, and it is caused by a bacterium that is passed through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks.  Lyme disease is prevalent in the Northeast and much of the North Central United States; it is expanding its range in Michigan, largely because the blacklegged tick is expanding its range!  According to the Michigan Emerging and Zoonotic Disease summary published by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, 262 human cases were reported in 2018, with most Michigan exposures occurring in the Upper Peninsula and western Lower Peninsula.  

In order to better protect themselves and their families, Michiganders should be informed of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, and learn how to avoid exposure.  University researchers have developed a useful tool to track the spread of Lyme disease and better inform people living in areas with blacklegged ticks.

The Tick App is a free mobile health app developed by collaborators from Michigan State University, the University of Wisconsin and Columbia University.  Besides being a reliable and handy resource with information about ticks and tick prevention, the Tick App gives you the opportunity to contribute as a citizen scientist.  If you provide consent to the research and complete an entry survey (which takes 5 -10 minutes), you will be prompted regularly to make a “daily log.” The daily log should take about a minute to complete. It asks if you or a household member (including your furry ones!) encountered a tick, what you did that day and even how COVID influenced your outdoor activities. You also have the option to complete “tick reports” to log your tick encounters; if you submit a clear photo, researchers will respond to you by email with information about the species and life stage. This information can be very helpful for a physician for diagnosis and treatment should anyone begin to feel sick. Lastly, if you allow location services, the app will use your location to provide you with current information on blacklegged tick activity in your area.  Location services also help researchers understand how time spent in different areas is associated with tick exposure.

We at the Detroit Zoo understand the importance of spending time in nature. Hiking, biking and enjoying the outdoors is great for the spirit, and great exercise! Staying informed and aware of the potential risks from ticks and mosquitos will only help you be better prepared as you spend time connecting with the world around you. 

– Ann Duncan is the director of animal health for the Detroit Zoological Society.

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