Results from TickApp Project 2018

The TickApp project is a citizen science citizen science is the term used to refer a wide range of activities where citizens participate actively in a scientific project study aiming to estimate the risk of exposure of humans to ticks and tick bites in Scotland.

The tick Ixodes ricinus is widely distributed in Scotland and is responsible for the transmission of important pathogenic agents to humans such as Borrelia species that cause Lyme disease.

Maps of tick distribution can help us to identify areas of higher risk of tick bite, so that measures to improve awareness and prevention can be targeted most effectively. However it is difficult to produce accurate tick maps due to a lack of data on ticks in different parts of Scotland. Citizen science can help to fill the gaps in identifying areas of high risk for ticks and tick-bites.

We asked volunteers to report when they had done outdoor activities, and whether they had seen ticks or not. A website was launched last year and between June and October 2018 volunteers in Scotland provided a total of 808 reports. This included individuals reporting their activities, as well as outdoor centres reporting on group activities.

These results have not yet undergone full statistical analysis but we wanted to provide some preliminary results. These results should be interpreted with caution because they have not undergone any analyses to disentangle the multiple factors that influence tick exposure. Definitive results will be only presented at the end of the project.

What locations did reports cover?

The map below (figure 1) shows the locations of reports from TickApp website in 2018. Points represent the trajectories reported by volunteers (reported as GPX file or drawn on a map) and are coloured according the type of activity.

alternate text Figure 1: Map of Scotland with data recorded into TickApp website. Points represent the trajectories reported by volunteers (reported as GPX file or drawn on a map) and are coloured according the type of activity.

What activities were reported?

In total, 808 reports were received. The following bar chart shows the activities reported into the TickApp website. Please note, data on tick encounters during children’s activities were also collected, but are not shown on this graph due to high numbers of reports.

Please drag the cursor to each one of the bars to see how many reports were done for each activity.

The bar chart below shows the list of activities reported into the TickApp. Orienteering, Walking and Running had the most reports whilst Camping had the fewest. To see the exact numbers please drag the cursor to each one of the bars. Have you participated in the reports?

How many ticks were reported?

Out of a total of 808 reports, 16% of reports included ticks. In total, volunteers reported a total of 256 ticks found crawling and 190 tick bites. The reports where volunteers did not find any ticks are as useful for us as those where they did!

The interactive chart shows the total number of reports, the total number of ticks reported and the average number of ticks reported per person per activity, for each of the activity categories. Please note, the risk of encountering ticks is influenced by many factors, including the location, vegetation type and the time of year, so these preliminary raw data should not be used to suggest that one activity is more ‘risky’ than another. The statistical analyses we will do will take all these factors into account.

Please report your outdoor activities in 2019 to improve our estimates!

Orienteering events

The TickApp project attended several orienteering events in 2018, to compare the number of ticks collected using survey transects with the number of ticks reported by people after running in the same area. These data will help us assess how scientific methods for collecting ticks compare with actual tick encounter rates. The figure shows preliminary data from three events, indicating how many ticks were collected in each area using transect surveys, how many orienteers reported their activity, and how many ticks were reported, and the average number of ticks per person.

alternate text Figure 2: Transect surveys: To estimate the relative tick abundance in a certain area, we drag a 1m2 white blanket over the ground vegetation for 10m. All the nymph and adult ticks attached to the blanket are counted and collected. We repeat this procedure 25 times.

Final thoughts

These preliminary data should not be used to infer patterns about tick exposure by location or activity. However, the data our volunteers have provided in 2018 will contribute to our analyses and have helped us to refine our data collection methods for 2019. Thank you to all of our volunteers who have contributed data so far.

We hope to collect as much data as we can in 2019 to get accurate estimates of tick encounter rates and how these are influenced by factors such as location, season and type of activity. Please do report your outdoor activities between 1st March and 31st October 2019 to help us do this!

We will also be attending orienteering events to ask for people to report data after their runs. Please do come and chat to us!