Tick season: Tracking the pesky buggers

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 Etick.ca, 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 summarised 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 analyse the ticks and will identify whether it is a Ixodes scapularis or blacklegged tick.

Potential threat for Lyme disease

The blacklegged 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 blacklegged 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.

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 Dr. 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.