New Mapping Effort To Help Battle Lyme Disease

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A new Scottish Highlands ‘citizen science’ project that will test new technology to map tick hotspots has received funding from the European Space Agency (ESA). The one-year study will test the new phone app called LymeMap, and see whether it can be adapted internationally.

The project will bring together citizens, researchers and health workers, and use GPS technology, smartphones and data analysis to fight Lyme disease, which has increased tenfold in Scotland. The ESA has awarded the project just over $280,000.  

LymeMap will allow users to upload images of their tick bites, where they were bitten and the time and date, says Tom Davison, a spokesperson for NHS highland. The app will also provide them with advice on ticks and Lyme disease.  

Using both GPS technology to gather information on a user’s location and data provided by doctors and NHS Highland’s National Lyme Borreliosis Testing Laboratory, LymeMap will help produce maps that will provide a clearer picture on the prevalence of ticks and Lyme disease. Researchers suggest these maps will vary by season and will hopefully help reduce the tick bite incidences.

Lyme disease is caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and can be spread to humans if they’re bitten by infected ticks. Early symptoms typically include a circular rash that looks like a ‘bull’s eye’ on the bitten area, others also experience headaches and a fever. If left untreated, Lyme disease can turn nasty, affecting your nervous system, and can cause painful joints and heart problems.  

The impact of LymeMap would be “small but significant initially,” Davison tells IFLScience. “But it will grow as more specific and detailed information is gathered both in Scotland and internationally."

Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease in Europe, with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control estimating 85,000 cases every year, and incidence are increasing. Confirmed cases for Lyme disease in the U.S. went from 11,700 in 1995 to 29,959 in 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  

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