Yesterday marked the kick-off of tick bite prevention week (Week van de Teek). With tick numbers rising every week, people can use the Nature Today app to check whether they can expect ticks in their own area. Using weather information, satellite data and land use categories, the app generates real-time tick alerts, helping people to avoid tick bites and the diseases these can cause, such as Lyme’s disease and tick-borne encephalitis. The app was developed by HAS Hogeschool, Wageningen University and the University of Twente.
“On the basis of tekenradar.nl tick bite reports given since 2013 we know that half of the 1,500,000 tick bites the Dutch suffer annually, occur in June and July,” says Arnold van Vliet of Wageningen University, the initiator of Nature Today. Professor Raul Zurita-Milla, of the Geo-Information Processing department (ITC faculty), says that the tick app is a good example of applied team science that also has a direct social impact. “We hope that our model will help people understand the risks of a tick bite.”
By combining 10 years’ worth of monthly tick captures by volunteers with weather data, satellite images and land use data, researchers at the ITC faculty and Wageningen University have developed a tick prevalence prediction model. The model is an update of a model developed a year ago by UT PhD student Irene Garcia Marti, who was supervised by Professor Zurita-Milla together with colleagues at Wageningen University and the RIVM. Working with HAS Hogeschool this model was operationalised, allowing an up-to-date Tick Alert to be generated for every square kilometre in the Netherlands.
The tick model gives a clear overview of the situation throughout the Netherlands. After you select your own location, or any other desired location in the country, the app gives the expected tick prevalence in that area: minimal, low, moderate, high, or very high.
Arnold van Vliet, the coordinator of Nature Today, whose tick model is hosted by the app: “Many people forget to check their children and/or dogs for tick bites when they get home after visiting a nature area, so the app includes an option to send a tick check reminder notification later in the day.
“Thanks to the Tick Alert we also expect that many people will do more to prevent tick bites in the first place, for example by tucking trousers into socks or by modifying their recreational behaviour. A tick bite can transmit Lyme’s Disease, or tick-borne encephalitis (TBe), which, thankfully, is relatively rare in the Netherlands. It’s important to remove a tick as promptly as possible, since this reduces the chance of disease. And once you’ve been bitten, it’s important to keep an eye on the spot where it bit you.”
If you are bitten by a tick, or you show signs of Lyme’s Disease, or you develop a fever after having been bitten (an indication of TBe), the app lets you simply click through to tekenradar.nl to submit a report. These reports assist the tick research being carried out by the RIVM and Wageningen University. The app also shows how many tick bites were reported to tekenradar.nl in the last seven days, and provides answers to many frequently asked questions about ticks and tick bites.
The tick model was developed with support from the Dutch Research Council (Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek, NWO) which funded Professor Zurita-Milla within the framework of the Maps4Society programme. This project also reflects the UT’s expertise in the domains of Sensing, Artificial intelligence and Citizen Science.