A woman who was left bedridden for eight years after being bitten by a tick has helped launch a new app which flags up Lyme Disease hotpsots.
Morven-May MacCallum had to drop out of school as a teenager after she contracted the life-altering condition from an insect bite.
MacCallum, who has written a book about her fight against the disease, threw her support behind LymeApp – a new European Space Agency-backed project which uses satellite data to map where the ticks are and where the disease has been detected.
MacCallum, who is from the Highlands, said: “Lyme disease is an illness of unquestionable power and the damage it’s had on my life and for thousands like me is unmeasurable. It’s wonderful to see professionals from across different areas of expertise come together to help advance our knowledge of this disease and, in the process, hopefully find the answers which are so desperately needed.”
The project aims to prevent the occurrence of Lyme disease in the Northern Hemisphere, but the Highlands, where ticks are common, was chosen for the launch of the app.
LymeApp, a website and linked app, is being developed by International Disease Mapping Apps (ID MAPPS) Ltd, a new company formed by Scotland’s Rural College, a representative company Highland Health Ventures Ltd (a collaborative partner for NHS Highland), ERGO (Environmental Research Group Limited) and Belgium-based Avia GIS NV.
The demonstration phase of LymeApp was launched in Inverness today (Thursday 22 August), where campaigner Morven-May MacCallum – who was left bedridden for eight years by Lyme disease – was among the speakers.
The £1.1m project uses satellite data to help highlight where the ticks are and where the disease has been detected. It received £555,000 from the UK Space Agency, through the European Space Agency’s Integrated Applications Promotion.
LymeApp combines the satellite information with data from the Scottish Lyme Disease and Tick-borne Infections Reference Laboratory in Inverness, as well as information from general medical practitioners and those exposed to ticks through work or recreation. It will use spatial modelling techniques to produce detailed maps of where the ticks are likely to be and where the disease is reported most often.
Using citizen science technology, LymeApp will also allow the public to report locations via their phone of tick sightings and bites to this central database.
Lyme disease – also known as Lyme borreliosis – is an infection that can be spread to humans by ticks carrying the Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria, which is carried by one in ten of the insects.
If not diagnosed and treated promptly, it can lead to a chronic, debilitating disease.
Diagnosed cases have reached an estimated 3000 per year in the UK and more than 65,000 per year in Europe.
Project lead Professor George Gunn, SRUC’s Head of Veterinary Epidemiology, said: “This is an extremely exciting, integrated project involving satellites, emerging technology and big data. Following a successful feasibility study, I would like to thank the sponsors and the businesses and individuals who have agreed to take part in this demonstration phase.”
Dr Roger Evans, Consultant Clinical Scientist at NHS Highland, said: “LymeApp is an innovative way of involving healthcare professionals, veterinarians and epidemiologists with involvement of the general public to reduce the transmission of Lyme disease among the people of Scotland. It is hoped that the fully developed products will be able to be extended to other countries where this disease is common.”