After a brush with Lyme disease, Nova Scotia woman develops all-natural tick repellent

Published: May 16, 2018

Tick on human skin Photo by John Tann

As we enter the season of cottaging, campfires, beer koozies, and all of our other favourite things, outdoors enthusiasts also find themselves approaching peak season for something much less desirable: ticks.

Tick populations have exploded in the last decade, and experts are expecting this year will see an uptick (pun unintended) in cases of Lyme disease, which is caused by a bacteria carried by some ticks.

There haven’t been many effective, non-chemical options for keeping ticks away, but Lisa Ali of Mahone Bay, Nova Scotia, is trying to change that. She has created an anti-tick spray out of natural ingredients, and preliminary tests for it have been promising.

AtlanTick anti-tick spray
If they receive approval from Health Canada, these natural tick repellents could become widely available. [Photo by AtlanTick]
Ali developed her product, AtlanTick, after her two sons contracted Lyme disease from ticks in 2016. “I wanted to protect them from getting Lyme disease again, but I didn’t want to put DEET on [them],” Ali told the CBC. “I didn’t want to put anything chemical on their skin.”

So she got down to some research and set about developing a spray using natural ingredients that ticks had been shown to avoid, including witch hazel, jojoba, and other essential oils.

But Ali won’t be satisfied until her formula is scientifically proven to deter ticks.

Nicoletta Farone, a biologist at Acadia University, has received grants from Nova Scotia Productivity and Innovation and the National Research Council to test the product. She has been conducting tests with real ticks, seeing if they will cross the AtlanTick to reach a habitat she has built for them. So far, most ticks have not wanted to cross the AtlanTick.

“The results are pretty interesting because the AtlanTick body spray repelled about 75, 80 per cent of the tested ticks,” Faraone said. “These results were compared to DEET, which recorded 100 per cent of repellency. It’s pretty encouraging, because we clearly saw a repellency effect.”

Blacklegged tick
Lyme disease is caused by a bacteria carried by some blacklegged ticks, like this one.

Ali is pleased with these initial results. However, she still has to do further testing before she can get Health Canada’s approval to sell her product as a tick spray, which may take up to two years. Still, she believes that if it helps prevent Lyme disease, it will be worth it.

Lyme disease is caused by the borrelia bacteria, which can result from blacklegged tick bites. It can cause fever, fatigue, headaches, tremors, and stiffness, and if it goes untreated for several weeks, it can become chronic.

In Nova Scotia, 1,020 cases of Lyme disease were reported between 2002 and 2016.

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