The Tick App: Studying human behavior, tick exposure and the risk of Lyme disease using a citizen science approach via a smartphone application.
Concerned about ticks? Download The Tick App for free to join our research efforts and report your tick encounters.
If you have heard any NYS IPM Program staff talk about ticks, you have probably heard us mention that there is a lot we don’t know about ticks. Or exactly how our actions impact our risk of getting a tick-borne disease. So it is with great pleasure that we announce that we have partnered with the Diuk-Wasser lab at Columbia University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison who created The Tick App.
By downloading the app through GooglePlay or the AppStore, you will have access to information about:
ticks biology and identification
tick activity in your area
how to remove a tick
It will also help you identify ticks that you find through the Report a Tick button.
That’s a lot of information at your fingertips. The most important part of the app, however, is the daily log where you share with the team how you spent your time, what steps you took to prevent tick encounters (if any), and if you found a tick on you, a family member, or a pet. Your information is confidential and will only be shared as aggregated data based on zip code.
I have been using the app for two years and have made entering my data a daily routine, along with my daily tick check. It takes only minutes to complete.
The more people entering data, the better the team will be able to connect the dots between what we do and how that brings us in contact with ticks. We will then be able to better create recommendations to keep New Yorkers safe.
And there’s no better time as The Tick App is launching the #BattleOfTheDailyLog this June, pitching NY against other northeast and midwest states. C’mon New York! We can do this!
Don’t worry. We’ll still continue to provide tick information through the Don’t Get Ticked NY Campaign via our website, blog posts, and presentations.
October 23, 2019
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Help! I found a tick on me!
The time of the falling leaves has come again. Once more in our morning walk we tread upon carpets of gold and crimson, of brown and bronze, woven by the winds or the rains out of these delicate textures while we slept. – John Burroughs
Whether conducting a thorough tick check or just examining the lump behind your knee, this is something no one wants to find.
The time has also come again for blacklegged tick adults to look for their last blood meal to fuel the mating process. (To be specific, it’s time for the adult females to secure that last blood meal. It’s time for the adult males to secure a female.) And it’s time for requests such as this one, “I was wondering if you could ID this tick that I pulled off of myself and give me any tips on what diseases this variety tends to carry and transmit.”
First, let’s be clear that the information we provide about tick-borne diseases is restricted to what pathogens are carried by what tick species and how they are transmitted. It is beyond the scope of our roles as IPM Educators to discuss diagnosis, symptoms, and treatment. (For this information, we refer you to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Tickborne Diseases of the United States page.) We will, however, provide you with information you can give your health care professional to help make an informed decision.
Different tick species host different pathogens. Importantly, ticks can transmit more than one pathogen at a time.
The easiest part of the request was what disease pathogens are carried by what ticks. The poster to the right shows what disease pathogens can be transmitted by the three ticks of greatest human concern in NY, the blacklegged tick, dog tick, and lone star tick. You can download and print it out and then go to the next step – identification.
Each species, life stage, and, for adults, whether it is a male versus female have different color patterns. The length of the mouthparts vary between ticks. They have festively named festoons which can also help with ID. As ticks are freakishly small, and we are looking at even smaller parts of their body, it is handy to have a magnifying lens, a good smartphone camera and a steady hand, or, better yet, a microscope. Don’t have one? There are options for having someone identify the tick for you. They include:
The Tick App – a citizen science project with a free smartphone app collecting information on how and where people are becoming exposed to ticks
Courtesy of The TickEncounter Resource Center
If you want to give identification a go, the TickEncounter Resource Center has an excellent guide highlighting the scutum, festoons, and life history. Life history? Yes! As temperatures drop, so does the activity of lone star, dog, and the newly discovered Asian longhorned tick, increasing the odds that the attached tick will be a blacklegged tick. And the active blacklegged ticks are most likely to be adults. Life history should only be used as a clue, however. Ticks don’t read the books and every life stage of the blacklegged tick has been found throughout the year.
What’s the risk?
A question you will likely be asked when reporting a tick is, “How long was the tick attached?”. In my honest opinion, this is a rather silly question. Ticks are very, very good at not being noticed. They want to stick around for up to a week feeding. To help deter detection, they release antihistamines and painkillers in their saliva. And, perhaps more importantly, none of us want to admit to ourselves that a tick was feeding on our blood for days. It’s a hard psychological pill to swallow. There is also some question in the medical literature about the time required for transmission of the bacteria that causes Lyme disease. Especially if the tick was removed improperly. (We covered safe removal of attached ticks in the blog post It’s tick season. Put away the matches and YouTube video How to remove a tick.) And we know Powassan virus can be transmitted in a matter of minutes. But the question will still likely be asked.
The answer? Take another look at that tick and refer to TickEncounter who has helpfully created charts showing the growth of ticks as they feed.
Courtesy of The TickEncounter Resource Center
I have found this chart particularly useful when people swear the tick was on them for only a few hours. Having an estimate of the attached time is helpful information for your physician. Take your printed Tick-Borne Diseases and Non-Pathogenic Impacts sheet, circle the identified species, write down the estimated time of attachment, and consult with your health care professional.
Pictures such as this can be helpful, but for an accurate identification, nothing beats the actual tick.
And now back to the original request: “I was wondering if you could ID this tick that I pulled off of myself and give me any tips on what diseases this variety tends to carry and transmit.”. The submitted picture is included to the right. (You can click on it to make it bigger.) Before reading on, what is your identification?
This looks like an adult blacklegged tick which was attached for 2 to 3 days, which is within the time frame that pathogens carried by the tick could have been transmitted. I recommended bringing in the tick for a more certain identification.
One last question often asked – “Should I get the tick tested?”
We follow the CDC recommendation of nothaving the tick tested for diagnostic purposes. The reasons include:
Positive results showing that the tick contains a disease-causing organism do not necessarily mean that you have been infected.
Negative results can lead to false assurance. You may have been unknowingly bitten by a different tick that was infected.
If you have been infected, you will probably develop symptoms before results of the tick test are available. If you do become ill, you should not wait for tick testing results before beginning appropriate treatment.
Having said that, the Thangamani Lab in the SUNY Upstate Medical University is investigating the geographic expansion of ticks and tick-borne diseases in New York. They are conducting free tick testing for research purposes. Please consider contributing to this citizen science project and visit the website for directions on how to submit your tick.
Promoting IPM, including monitoring and personal protection, as best management practices for avoiding ticks and tick-borne disease.
Ticked off about ticks? You are not alone. And knowing the what, where, why, etc. is critical to knowing how to deal with them. So here it is, the first in a series: the low-down on that pest we love to hate.
May you, dear reader, stay tick-free and healthy.
1. What, exactly, is a tick?
Ticks are related to mites and spiders—but not to insects. (Now don’t go worrying about spiders—in the Northeast, virtually all are common victims of common misunderstandings.) Ticks have four life stages: egg, larvae, nymph and adult. All stages (well, not the eggs) feed on blood for energy to grow and later to reproduce. Larval ticks have six legs; nymphs and adults have eight.
Those things that look like antenna? Not—they’re highly adapted legs that process vital information. And that snout in the middle? Blood-sucking mouthparts. (Photo CDC)
Right now, three species are a health concern here in New York: the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick, and the American dog tick.
2. What do ticks look like?
Regardless the species, unfed ticks look like flattened teardrops with eight legs. And depending on their species, life stage and sex (male versus female), they have different color patterns on their bodies. But after they’ve eaten, their abdomens (the females’ especially) can expand so much that it’s really hard to know which is which. You can get positive IDs here.
Just keep in mind that learning a tick’s identity doesn’t mean you know if it’s carrying a disease.
I wrote a sentence on my finger, period and all. And yep, the larvae are that small. (Courtesy Cal Dept Public Health)
As for size? Again, that depends on the species, its life stage, and whether it has fed (and for how long). For blacklegged and lone star ticks, larvae are the size of the period at the end of this sentence. Nymphs? Think poppy seeds. Adults? Sesame seeds. When fully fed, adult females can be as large as a raisin.
American dog ticks, though, are a tad larger than the other two.
3. Are ticks a new problem? Why have we been hearing so much more about them lately?
Turns out ticks are nothing new. In fact, evidence suggests that ticks were carrying Lyme disease pathogens 15 to 20 million years ago (Lyme Disease’s Possible Bacterial Predecessor Found in Ancient Tick). What is new? We’re seeing far more ticks throughout the Northeast and much of North America than during any time in recorded history. And of course the more ticks in the neighborhood, the greater our risk of disease.
Why are ticks on the move? For one, (sub)urban sprawl leaves small patches of wooded areas—great habitat for mice and deer but far less welcoming to their traditional enemies—hawks or foxes, cougars or wolves. (More later on the role of mice and deer in tick-borne diseases.) In addition, a warming climate makes northern areas more hospitable for ticks.
Ah, yes. A place to call home—and nary a wolf in sight. (Photo provided.)
4. Where do ticks live? How do they find me? And where did the deer ticks go?
Blacklegged ticks are usually found in woodlots, forest edges, and groundcovers such as pachysandra or periwinkle—places where leaf litter, shrubs, and tree cover provide the moist environment they need. And how do they find us? Just as we sometimes go on quests, so too do they. Only they’re not seeking adventure or the Holy Grail, but simply a host. A host that provides the food (think blood) they need to thrive, or at least survive.
About deer ticks? Years ago, researchers thought they’d found a new species and gave it the common name “deer tick.” Turned out it was the same old blacklegged tick that’s been here since time immemorial.
No matter that these ticks lack eyes—questing ticks stand on the edge of a twig or leaf, their first pair of legs extended. Evolution endowed them with cleverly designed legs: they’ve got sensors to detect temperature, the carbon dioxide those hosts exhale, and odors or sounds specific to those hosts. When a host brushes past, they grab on tight.
The nymphs typically quest below a person’s knee-height. Because adult ticks feed on larger animals, they might quest higher up to find a host—as high as your waist-height or mine.
The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes — some still mysterious. (Photo CDC)
The lone star tick thrives in a wide range of habitats, from shady forests to sunny lawns or roadsides. Unlike the blacklegged tick, the lone star tick hustles toward its prey, even across pavement or dry sand. Other distinguishing features? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.
Last but not least—the American dog tick. Forget the woods: this tick thrives in warm, dry places—roadsides, grassy fields, scrubland and lawns. Larvae and nymphs mostly feed on small mammals, while adults climb grass, brush, or twigs to find medium-sized animals—people included. And sometimes American dog ticks could be even more aggressive. TickEncounter has reported seeing American dog ticks follow a regular source of carbon dioxide that attracted them for upward a few hundred yards to the house. And in one memorable case ticks were crawling up the outside walls toward window screens and doors. Now if that doesn’t give you the willies….
No matter which tick you might collide with—this is one party you don’t want to host.
Stay tuned for another informative post on the biology behind that pest we love to hate.
(Adapted from nysipm.cornell.edu/whats-bugging-you/ticks/tick-faqs#answers)
May 24, 2018
by Joellen Lampman Comments Off on Minimize tick risk while minimizing pesticide risk
“I already found a tick on me!” – many people across NY
Many New Yorkers still equate tick activity with summertime, but blacklegged ticks, the ones that carry Lyme disease, anaplasmosis, babesiosis, Powassan virus, and Borrelia miamyoti, are most active in the spring and fall. (They can actually be active year round if the temperature and humidity levels are just right. Thus the heavy activity on the warm days in February.)
The goal is to prevent ticks from becoming embedded in the first place. But if you do find an embedded tick, remove it properly!
And in the springtime the blacklegged tick nymph turns to thoughts of questing. And nymphs are small. Poppy seed-sized small. If you are not intentionally conducting a daily tick check, you could easily miss one. And even if you are intentionally looking, one can occasionally get through your visual defenses. Which is why I was able to take this tick removal video after finding this tiny nymph on my leg when using my fingertips to search by feel. Since Powassan virus can be transmitted after 15 minutes of the tick being embedded, the incentive for not being bitten has risen dramatically.
Which brings us to the use of clothing treatments to protect ourselves. Permethrin is a pesticide that can be applied to clothing, footwear and gear before exposure. Researchers for the Center for Disease Control recently conducted a study showing how permethrin interferes with blacklegged, American dog, and lone star ticks’ ability to move and, thus, to bite. Read about it here.
Now the easiest option is to buy pretreated clothing or have your clothes professionally treated. The TickEncounter Resource Center has an excellent section of their website about tick repellent clothes, including where to get them.
For DIYers, permethrin can be purchased at many sporting goods and big box stores as a liquid or aerosol spray. But it must be applied safely and correctly. I try not to react in horror as people tell me they will spray the clothes they are wearing just prior to walking out the door. This product must NOT be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Or when one’s husband announces that he left his newly treated clothing in the basement. (And, yes, he sprayed the clothes down there too.) Permethrin must be applied outdoors. Don’t take my word for it. This information, and more, is found on the label. Let’s take a close look at the label from a commonly found product. (Does not imply endorsement.)
The label is the law and will tell you everything you need to know about using a pesticide correctly and legally.
The label, which is vetted through the EPA and, in NY, the DEC, provides information on the following topics (with a few examples thrown in):
Signal Word – this is your clue to how dangerous the pesticide is. To put it simply, categories include Caution (slightly toxic), Warning (moderately toxic), and Danger (highly toxic). This formulation of permethrin is labeled Caution.
DIRECTIONS FOR USE – includes, but is not limited to:
SHAKE WELL BEFORE USING. (Emphasis theirs. It must be important!)
This product must not be applied to clothing while it is being worn. Under no circumstances should bare skin or clothing on the body be treated. (Emphasis also theirs.)
Make all applications outside.
STORAGE & DISPOSAL
Store in a cool, dry place inaccessible to children.
Never place unused product down any indoor or outdoor drain
PRECAUTIONARY STATEMENTS – includes “Do not use on humans.”
FIRST AID – in case you didn’t follow the precautionary statements.
This product is extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic organisms.
We hit just some of the highlights, but it is all important. The label not only provides suggestions for using the product safely – the label is the law. That too is on the label: “Buyer assumes all risks of use, storage or handling of this product not in strict accordance with directions given herewith.”
So what is one to do? Why, follow the label of course. Decide which clothes you might wear into tick infested places and “select an outdoor area protected from the wind, spray outer surfaces of clothing (while not being worn) with a slow sweeping motion to lightly moisten the surface of the fabric, holding pump at a distance of 6 to 8 inches. Treat outer surfaces of each outfit, front and back, for 30 seconds on each side and allow to dry for at least 2 hours (4 hours under humid conditions). Pay particular attention to socks, trouser cuffs, and shirt cuffs.”
Then plan for the next application. “Clothing should be retreated after six weeks or after the sixth laundering to maintain adequate protection” I both mark the day I sprayed in my calendar and schedule an appointment for six weeks later.
By the way, professionally treated clothing also has a label, often found on the hang tag when purchased. Be sure to follow those instructions carefully as well.
If you’ve read our other posts on the blacklegged tick (aka the deer tick), you might guess—and rightly so—that it’s the tick that’s been on our radar the longest; the one we (still) give most of our time and attention to. And all for good reason.
Sheer numbers (how much Lyme disease we’ve seen; what the co-infections are and how commonplace they are; its reputation as the “great imitator”) keep the blacklegged tick in the spotlight. Meanwhile, with the exception of Long Island, the lone star tick is rarely seen in the metro New York area and points north. But it has colonized some islands off Connecticut and established a toehold on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
The lone star tick is on a roll, with its own suite of diseases and syndromes, some still mysterious. (Credit CDC)
Indeed, the lone star tick’s potential for harm could, somewhere down the pike, become a force all northerners face.
And consider this: though deer serve as a great food source and taxi service for ticks, they are immune to Lyme disease. Not so with the lone star tick. Because given the right circumstances, it can kill even deer.
So … what diseases or conditions does this tick carry—and could any be fatal to people? Here’s the short list:
Ehrlichiosis is nasty. Upward of two percent of those who get it might die.
Tularemia is nasty too, though less so than ehrlichiosis.
Heartland virus is rare—and most people who do get it have mild symptoms; perhaps none at all. But yes, some will die.
Alpha-gal syndrome? Perhaps—especially if you don’t know it for what it is. While the symptoms can be frighteningly intense, not everyone reacts with that same level of intensity. Plus this syndrome’s transcontinental spread in places lacking lone star ticks leads to yet-unanswered questions.
So how about STARI, or southern tick-associated rash illness—can it do you in? My careful search turned up zilch, zip, zero. Doesn’t mean STARI won’t send you to an early grave. But if it could, I can’t find credentialed scientific sources to back up such a claim. You’ll be interested to know, though, that the rash STARI stands for can, on the surface of things, make you think you might have Lyme disease. And more unanswered questions: as of August 2017, the pathogen that causes STARI remains unknown.
The aggressive lone star tick, named for the white spot on the female’s back should scare the willies out of you. Its resume includes ehrlichiosis, tularemia, the heartland virus (luckily, this virus is rare) and alpha-gal syndrome—a frankly scary allergy to red meat. And while this might be new tick in town, it’s indigenous to the southern U.S.
Could it carry Lyme disease? Highly unlikely.
Compared to a dime, this tick is mighty small, but the blacklegged tick is smaller. Courtesy CDC.
This tick is just a tad larger than the blacklegged tick. Like the blacklegged tick, it hangs out in brushy edge habitat and tall grass. It likes woodsy thickets, too. And just like the blacklegged tick, the newly-hatched larval lone star is disease-free—pure as the fallen snow. But as soon as it hatches, it’s out questing—looking for that essential blood meal it can’t live without.
Yet unlike blacklegged tick that, as larvae and nymphs, prefers to take its meals on wild mice and chipmunks, the lone star isn’t picky. Deer, coyotes, raccoons, squirrels, turkeys and, yes, our pets and us—if these hosts are already infected with the diseases the lone star tick carries, then those larvae are infected too. What defines “larvae” on the world of ticks? Note the six legs, unlike eight-legged nymphs and adults.
Yes, the lone star tick is on a roll. But it hasn’t established a strong presence in most of upstate NY. Yet. (Courtesy CDC)
And the lone star has a loose life cycle. In the South, it’s usually a one (year) and done thing. In the North, this tick might not have gotten its requisite blood meal by the time winter blows in. So whatever stage it’s at, it just hunkers down in leaf litter and waits till spring. Also unlike the blacklegged adult, which is up and about anytime it gets into the mid-30s, the lone star tick favor balmy weather. For them, the 50s are more like it. And as always, the IPM mantra—prevention—is the way to go.
Other differences from the blacklegged tick? Well … it’s lots more aggressive. Imagine a tick that travels three times as fast as the blacklegged tick, has excellent vision, and hatches in stinging swarms that can put fire ants to shame.
Ah… I do so hate to leave you in suspense. But there’s more to come—next week. Same time (more or less), same place, same station.