French launch ‘tick alert’ app as Lyme disease moves north
A SMARTPHONE app has been launched in France to track a plague of ticks responsible for more than 30,000 cases of Lyme disease every year.
It came as experts warned yesterday that growing numbers of disease-carrying ticks were “moving North” to Britain and as far as Scotland due to warmer and wetter conditions linked to climate change.
The disease attacks the nervous system and, if left untreated, can lead to heart problems, temporary facial paralysis, seizures or even death. Symptoms can include a red bullseye-shaped rash, tiredness, muscle pain and headaches. The disease is transmitted by ticks when they suck human blood.
Faced with a surge in cases, which have tripled in the past decade, experts at the French Institute for Agricultural Research, INRA, have launched a smartphone application called Signalement TIQUE – French for “tick alert”. Members of the public are being asked to pinpoint where they were bitten by the tiny blood-sucking insects, send photos of the specimen, and even attach the bug to a piece of sticky tape so researchers can track which species are infesting which areas. The idea is to build up a tick map of France.
Despite the risks to foreign tourists, the app is only available in French.
INRA has promised to finalise an English-language version “for British tourists” in September.
“We’re calling on citizens because we don’t have thousands of students to send into the forest,” Jean-françois Cosson, who is coordinating the project, told Le Parisien.
Last year, French authorities warned British tourists heading for the French countryside to avoid Lyme disease-carrying chipmunks.
The French health ministry has also released thousands of pamphlets and erected warning signs in wooded areas, but only in French. While health authorities put the number of new cases each year in France at 33,000, victims’ groups say the number could be three times higher, because many people fail to recognise the symptoms.
Britain is officially far less affected, but in recent years the prevalence of the disease has risen sharply, with around 2,000 to 3,000 new cases in England and Wales in 2015.
“They will be a growing problem in the UK because of the milder climate,” Mr Cosson said.
The disease has gained a higher profile in recent years after a string of public figures admitted they had been sufferers. Musician Kris Kristofferson suffered memory loss because of the illness, and Avril Lavigne, the Canadian singer, broke down in tears as she discussed how it affected her in 2015.
Other sufferers have included George W Bush, the former US president, actors Ben Stiller and Alec Baldwin and Sopranos actress Jamie-lynn Sigler.