COLLEGE STATION – Early identification and accurate information are vital in effectively responding to human and animal interaction with ticks, said experts in the entomology department at Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in College Station.
To help in that response, they have developed and introduced a free mobile Internet smart phone application named “The Tick App for Texas and the Southern Region” or “The TickApp.”
“Ticks are blood-feeding parasites capable of causing irritation, inflammation and infection in animals and humans, as well as transmitting the pathogens that cause tick-borne diseases,” said Dr. Pete Teel, Texas AgriLife Research professor and associate entomology department head. “We are frequently contacted for assistance from lay and professional audiences to identify ticks and answer questions about their biology, distribution and control, as well as the potential for acquiring a tick-borne disease.”
The TickApp was developed as a mobile application that resides as an Internet website providing in-depth content on tick identification, biology, ecology, prevention and management, and was designed for primary delivery on smart phones such as BlackBerry, Droid, and iPhone using Internet browsers, Teel said. It also can be accessed by desktop or laptop computer, as well as other personal portable electronic devices.
The mobile app is available at http://tickapp.tamu.edu, and future developments will include availability as a downloadable PDF for offline use.
Teel said he and others have designed and organized information to address the most frequently asked questions about ticks for a broad range of end-users into a smart phone application.
“We believe the smart phone application will provide portability and accessibility to tick-related information when and where it is needed,” he said.
The app’s creators have identified potential users, including: pet owners; state and federal park managers and employees; pest control professionals; animal shelter workers; animal control employees; outdoor educators; animal health inspectors; military personnel; veterinarians and vet clinic employees; public health and medical clinic employees; and recreational consumers, such as campers, hunters, birders, hikers and fishermen.
The new mobile smart phone app will allow users to access a wide range of information about ticks, including photos and detailed descriptions of regional tick species, in a simple format accessible when and where it is needed most, such as in field or human or animal clinic setting, he said. A glossary of terms, information on tick biology and the parasites’ one- and three-host life cycles and other details will assist users without an entomology background. Images of tick species showing gender-based developmental differences will make identification easier.
Teel said the six most frequently encountered tick species of the southern U.S. addressed through The TickApp are the Lone Star tick, Gulf Coast tick, American dog tick, blacklegged tick, brown dog tick and spinose ear tick. There also are five other tick species important to human and animal health included: the cayenne tick, the winter tick, the tropical horse tick, the southern cattle tick and the cattle tick.
For each tick species there is a brief description of the associated tick-borne diseases of the region, such as rickettsiosis, erlichiosis, anaplasmosis, babesiosis and borreliosis, including Lyme disease and Southern Tick Associated Rash Illness.
“Before launching the online product, we asked colleagues and students at universities in Oklahoma, Ohio, Alabama, Florida, North Carolina and Texas to review and provide input on smart phone types that enhanced app content, appearance, and navigation,” Teel said.
The new mobile smart phone app will allow users to access a wide range of information about ticks, including photos and detailed descriptions of regional tick species, in a simple format accessible when and where it is needed most, such as in field or human or animal clinic setting. — Dr. Pete Teel, Texas AgriLife Research entomologist.
The TickApp provides identification and management information on species of ticks that typically affect humans, livestock, companion animals and wildlife in the 13-state region from Texas to Florida covered by the Southern Region Integrated Pest Management Center, he said. However, as distribution of several of these tick species extend beyond the southern region, there is likely to be nationwide interest in the app.
Teel and his colleagues submitted a successful grant proposal to acquire partial funding to develop the app from the Southern Region Integrated Pest Management Center.
“The Southern Region IPM Center issues grants to universities and other stakeholders from agricultural, urban and rural settings involved in integrated pest management efforts that generate economic, environmental and human health benefits,” said Steve Toth, the center’s associate director. “The online guide and TickApp site is being supported, in part, by funding from the center as we realized its potential to reduce health and other economic costs associated with human and animal exposure to ticks and tick-borne disease.”
The TickApp also will contain information on and hyperlinks to the center’s website, so users can gain additional information on integrated pest management efforts and research in the region, developers said. There also will be information on proper tick removal and on how to submit tick samples to the University of North Texas Health Science Center for testing of ticks from humans in Texas. Other states may have similar services provided through their state health departments.
“A further application of this technology could be linkages to state and federal tick surveillance programs that track such changes as geographic distribution of tick vectors and/or the introduction of exotic tick species and foreign animal diseases,” Teel noted.
“There are economic and health risks associated with recreational and occupational exposure to these parasites in both urban and rural environments of the southern U.S.,” Teel said. “For example, it has been estimated that the cost for diagnosis and treatment for an individual affected by Lyme disease, for which the blacklegged tick is the primary vector, may exceed $150,000.” “Similar risks and management needs are associated with livestock, companion animals and wildlife.
Teel added that the U.S. horse industry recently was affected by the tickborne disease known as equine piroplasmosis.
“The Southern U.S. is home to known and suspected tick vectors of the disease pathogen,” he said. “The impact of this disease on horse owners throughout the U.S. is staggering, as owners work to comply with new testing for horses moving from state to state, and to respond when horses test positive for the disease.”
He said information provided by the app may prove vital to those with potential exposure to ticks in making decisions about preventive measures or the subsequent implementation of tick management practices.
“In developing this application, we considered our own goals for integrated pest management practices and reducing the risk of animal and human health, as well as the goals and concerns of others,” he said. “Among those were the Southern Region IPM Center, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, beef cattle industry associations and national human and animal health agencies. We also considered Texas-specific entities, including the Texas House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture and Livestock, Texas Animal Health Commission and county agents from our university system’s Texas AgriLife Extension Service.
“One great advantage of this type of application is that it also gives us the ability to expand and update our information on a regular basis,” said Otto Strey, senior research associate with AgriLife Research and manager of the university’s Tick Research Laboratory, who first proposed the TickApp concept.
Unlike pocket-size printed cards or other print options, Strey said, changes can be made quickly and easily, eliminating reprinting and automatically updating information on the app.
“By applying the mobile app to the Internet as a website for use through browsers, we are not restricting use to a single smart phone brand,” added Rob Williams, web-design specialist with AgriLife Extension.
“This application will be useful for anyone from a novice to a professional as in proper tick identification, treatment and control,” said Janet Hurley, AgriLife Extension integrated pest management coordinator at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Dallas, also on the app team. “It’s a user-friendly means of finding and disseminating information about ticks, and it was developed knowing that a homeowner or other individual will want different information than a rancher or other user.”
“After a lot of work and collaboration with others, we have developed what we feel is an effective, easy-to-use mobile app with concise but thorough details on various aspects of ticks that almost anyone can use to get information for their personal or professional benefit,” Teel said.