Dr. Jade Savage, of Bishop’s University’s Biology and Biochemistry Department, created eTick.ca, an online tick identification platform, so Canadians could access a single, free, and comprehensive tool to report tick encounters and benefit from trained personnel to identify the tick species, and find out if the tick that bit them could transmit pathogens causing Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses. In the process, eTick.ca enables everyday people to take part in citizen science by submitting images and locality information of the ticks they find.
Since joining Bishop’s in 2004, Dr. Savage noticed that she was receiving an increasing number of questions from concerned citizens who were bitten by ticks. From this, she realized that Canadians did not have an easy, reliable, and free service for tick identification that also provided information about the species, the risks they posed, and what to do after a tick bite. This is especially important as there are over 40 species of ticks in Canada, but only two that play an important role in the transmission of Lyme disease.
The systems in place at the time were also costly to maintain, inconsistent between provinces, or simply not present in certain regions/territories. They were also not practical for addressing concerns of individuals bitten by a tick in some cases. With the emergence of Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses, along with the expansion in range of certain tick species of medical interest over the years, there was a clear need for a surveillance system that would aid Canadians and collect/report data in a ubiquitous fashion across Canada.
First rolled out in Quebec, Dr. Savage set out to create eTick.ca, working with various public health and academic partners to first demonstrate it was possible to identify ticks easily and rapidly from pictures, and then to expand its range of activity throughout Canada.
Thanks to Dr. Savage and her team, Bishop’s is part of the national reporting system for ticks, deployed in every province and territory except Nunavut (for now). Anyone who visits eTick.ca (either through its website or iOS and Android app) can see on an interactive map where ticks have been reported in a region of interest to them. One can spot a tick, take a picture, and report it to get information on the species within two business days from anywhere the system is deployed.
eTick.ca works with several universities to identify the tick images submitted to the platform and with all regional public health agencies to develop province-specific messaging. This allows Dr. Savage, eTick’s partners, and provincial and academic authorities, to monitor tick species populations and determine how they may change across Canada over the years, which is important for the tracking of tick-borne illness risk across Canada.
Financial support for the program is provided by the Infectious Diseases and Climate Change Fund from the Public Health Agency of Canada, as well as Bishop’s University.