Posted on behalf of Janet Fang
Say you’ve just come home after a hike when you notice a brown speck on your elbow pit. And it’s a tick. Are you at risk for Lyme disease — a bacterial infection that, if untreated, can spread to your joints, heart and the nervous system? Don’t panic. There’s an app that can help you figure out if you’re infected.
Researchers from Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut have created a new iPhone application that determines your location, and can tell you if you’re in a tick-infested area during a risky time — say, a deciduous forest anywhere between coastal Maine and northeast Virginia during the spring and summertime. If you find yourself at heightened risk, you can read about various precautions to take. (For example, tuck your pant legs into your socks.)
If you’ve already been bitten, there’s a video on how to properly remove a tick (with tweezers, not a hot match as you might have been told). Then you can drop it on your screen to compare it with life-size images that can help you figure out the species, life stage, and how long it’s been feeding on your blood.
According to Yale epidemiologist Durland Fish, all these functions should help hikers put their minds at ease or, in the worst case scenario, direct them to the nearest physician. “You can only get Lyme disease in certain areas, only by certain ticks, and only after a tick has remained attached for a certain amount of time,” he said in a press release. As such, if the tick in question hasn’t been attached for 48 hours and doesn’t match the black-legged bugs in their nymph stage that appear on your iPhone screen, you’re in the clear.
“Information provided by this app should help many people prevent this disease,” Fish added. “In a quarter of Lyme disease cases, they didn’t even know they were exposed and didn’t know what to look for.”
The app also lists symptoms, including photographs of the subsequent rash. Data for the app came from a 5-year, $1.2 million study funded by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that involved over 100 tick collectors — one of PopSci’s Worst Science Jobs, and a post I held one hot summer day six years ago in Sonoma County, California. Proceeds support the American Lyme Disease Foundation of Lyme, Connecticut.
Check out our previous Nature Medicine video describing a slew of other medical apps.
Image: iPhone screenshots by Francesica Tizard