AN app to track ticks and prevent Lyme disease has been launched in the Highlands, with funding from the European and UK space agencies.

The £1.1 million project will allow members of the public to report tick sightings and bites and help scientists monitor cases of Lyme disease.

Developed by International Disease Mapping Apps, a new company formed by Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC), LymeApp uses satellite data to highlight where the disease has been detected across the northern hemisphere.

Data will be monitored by the Scottish Lyme Disease and Tick-borne Infections Reference Laboratory in Inverness.

READ MORE: Lyme disease cases in UK 'three times higher than thought'

Lyme disease is spread to humans by an infected tick bite. The ticks carrying the disease are found all over the UK, but particularly in grassy and wooded areas in the Scottish Highlands and southern England.

HeraldScotland: Camley's cartoon: New app will track Lyme DiseaseCamley's cartoon: New app will track Lyme Disease

Symptoms of infection can include a circular red rash often described as a bulls- eye on a dartboard.

Not everyone develops this rash, however, complicating diagnosis. Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, fever, nausea and muscle ache are also common.

If it is diagnosed quickly – within eight weeks – health guidelines state that most people will respond to antibiotics.

However, many patients who have missed this treatment window say they have gone on to develop a chronic condition characterised by pain and swelling in joints, nerve and heart problems, debilitating fatigue and neurological problems, such as trouble concentrating.

This remains controversial, however, with no medical consensus on whether “chronic Lyme” actually exists.

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Official data puts the number of new cases of Lyme disease at between 2,000 and 3,000 annually in the UK, but recent research has suggested a more accurate estimate for 2019 alone would be 8,000.

Morven-May MacCallum, from the Highlands, was at the launch of the app.

The 26-year-old was bitten by a tick aged 14 and told how the disease had left her housebound and bedridden for eight years.

She said she had been repeatedly mis- diagnosed and transformed from an active teenager who cycled, ran, hiked and rode horses, to one who struggled just to walk by the time she was 16.

Ms MacCallum 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.”

Dr Roger Evans, consultant clinical scientist at NHS Highland, said he hoped the technology would eventually be “extended to other countries where this disease is common”.

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It comes after a study this week in BMC Public Health of 2,361 hospital patients with Lyme disease found that they were predominantly white, female and living in areas of low deprivation.

Co-author Dr John Tulloch said: “The reasons for this are hard to explain, but could be related to differences in health seeking behaviour between women and men and an increased exposure to tick habitats due to leisure activities in children and older people, as opposed to occupational exposure in younger adults.”

Dr Tulloch added that white people may be more likely to live in areas where disease-transmitting ticks were more abundant.