France has launched a special smartphone application to track a rocketing plague of ticks, which cause over 30,000 cases of Lyme disease par year and pose a threat to thousands of British holidaymakers who take to the French countryside in summer.
Experts on Monday warned that growing numbers of disease-carrying ticks were “moving North” to Britain and as far as Scotland due to warmer and wetter conditions linked to climate change.
Lyme disease attacks the nervous system. If left untreated it can lead to heart problems, temporary facial paralysis, seizures or even death. Symptoms can include a bull’s eye red shaped rash, tiredness, muscle pain and headaches. It is transmitted by ticks when they suck human blood.
Faced with a dramatic surge in the number of cases, which have tripled in the past decade, experts at the French Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA, have launched an application called Signalement TIQUES – French for “tick alert”.
Its aim is to enable people to pinpoint where they were bitten by one of the tiny blood-sucking acarids, and to send photos of the specimen.
Describing Lyme’s disease as a “major health issue”, the application called on “volunteers to get involved in ongoing research” on the little-known disease.
Despite the risks to foreign tourists, the application is currently only available in French.
INRA has promised to finalise an English-language version “for British tourists” in September.
Users input the location, date, their age and whether the victim is human or animal (cat or dog), as well as how many bugs are involved. The idea is to build up a tick map of France.
“Together, we can swiftly improve our knowledge, simply by exchanging knowledge in a spirit of participatory science,” says the application.
Researchers even urge people bitten to send the bugs in the post attached to a piece of sticky tape so they can track which species are infesting which areas.
“We’re calling on citizens because we don’t have thousands of students to send into the forest!,” said Jean-François Cosson, who is coordinating the project. “And we need to know exactly where and when people are bitten, as well as studying the varieties of ticks.”
“By crossing weather data with the creature’s habitat, we can build up a mathematical forecast model of the risks of coming across a tick,” he said.
For now, the bugs rarely attack in the colder months, but he warned that warmer, wetter weather caused by global warming meant that they can strike “even in mid-winter”.
“They will be a growing problem in the UK because of the milder climate,” he told the Telegraph.
The most common Lyme disease-carrying species, ixodes ricinus, or the castor bean tick, is now “increasingly widespread in Scotland,” he added.
Last year, French authorities warned British tourists heading for the French countryside to avoid Lyme-disease carrying chipmunks.
Having briefly been popular as domestic pets after a 2007 Hollywood film, many rodents were released in European woodland and are now being blamed for spreading the debilitating illness to humans.
Campers, hikers and picnickers planning trips to the wooded areas were urged to show caution as one of France’s leading newspapers accused its government of turning a blind eye to the “hidden epidemic”.
If bitten by a tick, Inra experts advise people not to soak them in alcohol, as this stresses the animal and could cause it to regurgitate bacteria into the blood system. The best way is to corkscrew them off with a special tic remover, available in most chemists.
If the tick has been attached for more than 36 hours, one should seek medical help, which could mean taking antibiotics.
The French health ministry is also due to launch a summer media campaign to raise awareness of the risks of the disease. It has released thousands of pamphlets and erected written warnings in wooded areas, but only in French.
France is due to announce protocol for diagnosing and treating Lyme disease this autumn.
While health authorities put the number of new cases each year in France at 33,000, victims’ groups say the number could be three times higher, because many people fail to recognise the symptoms.
Britain is officially far less affected, but in recent years the prevalence of the tick-borne disease has risen sharply, with around 2,000 to 3,000 new cases in England and Wales in 2015. Some charities claim the actual number could be as high as 45,000, fuelled by a soaring deer population.
The disease has gained a higher profile recently after a string of public figures admitted they had been sufferers. Musician Kris Kristofferson revealed last year that he had suffered memory loss because of the illness, which was first misdiagnosed as Alzheimer’s. https://madisonarealymesupportgroup.com/2016/06/09/alzheimers-byproduct-of-infection/
Avril Lavigne, the Canadian singer, broke down in tears as she discussed how it affected her in 2015. https://madisonarealymesupportgroup.com/2015/07/29/excellent-lyme-article-avril-lavigne/
Others who have had Lyme disease include George W. Bush, the former US president, and actors Ben Stiller and Alec Baldwin, who said: “At the same time of the year, I get really tired.” Rocker Daryl Hall said it “can make you want to die if you’re not dead”.
Sopranos actress Jamie Lynn Sigler said it had paralysed her, but she had overcome it with antibiotics.