It’s fall, and our property is inundated with deer ticks. Our chickens keep them under control in the yard, but our dog is a hot-blooded tick beacon during her daily walks through the woods. She loves to tear around in the underbrush, which means I’m guaranteed to find at least one tick hiding under her fur each evening. And although I’m much taller and wear clothes, occasionally one makes it onto my skin too.
But the American Lyme Disease Foundation clearly doesn’t want me to panic about it. Their new iPhone/iPod app may have a disturbing title (Lyme Disease), but the material inside it is designed to teach users how to identify ticks, deal with their bites, and best of all, how to assess their risk for contracting the disease if they happen to get bitten. It includes a map developed by the Yale University School of Public Health that shows where deer ticks live in the United States (live in Wyoming? No deer ticks for you!), full-color life-sized images of the beasts in all their life stages, tips to prevent tick bites, a video demonstration of proper tick removal so you don’t wind up with mouthparts stuck in your skin, and in case you don’t remove a tick in time, a summary of Lyme disease symptoms with images of its characteristic rash that you can compare to your own skin and a search function for local physicians.
My favorite part of the app is the comparison chart that helps you estimate how long a tick has been attached by the amount of swelling in its abdomen. Since the chance of getting Lyme disease depends on how long the tick has been eating, the scorecard helps you decide whether or not you need to call the doctor.
It's also reassuring to learn that most disease is caused by ticks in their nymph form – because they’re small and hard to see, they get overlooked and remain attached for the 48 hours the Lyme disease bacterium needs to infect a new host. The ticks I’m finding right now are all adults: the males don’t bite, and the females are big enough to find easily so long as I keep up those daily checks. I'll be sure to hold what I find up to the app.
ALDF Lyme Disease iPhone/iPod app $1.99, Apple iTunes Store.