In this podcast, Sarah is joined by two Canadian women who have joined forces to create, research, and sell tick repellants made without harsh chemicals. Lisa Learning is an Indigenous entrepreneur and founder of AtlanTick repellent products. She joins us from Blockhouse, Nova Scotia. Nancy Thompson is her business partner and research collaborator. She joins us from Squamish, British Columbia.
The mother of invention
Lisa’s two sons developed painful swollen knees and were eventually diagnosed with Lyme disease. Although they both received treatment, Lisa knew they could get Lyme disease again if they were bitten by an infected tick. She didn’t want to use Deet on her sons, and when she couldn’t find a natural bug spray, she took matters into her own hands and started researching essential oils known to repel ticks. After developing her own natural botanical tick repellent formulas, she looked to scientific research for further development. She reconnected with her childhood friend, Nancy Thompson, and with tick researchers at Acadia University.
Health Canada registration
Before bringing her products to the Canadian market, Lisa had to have them registered with Health Canada. Lisa explains that this process was complicated and extremely bureaucratic, so she reached out for help within her community. She connected with Lianne Strathtee of Acadian Entrepreneurship, and was eventually referred to a biochemist at Acadia University, Dr. Nicoletta Faraone. Dr. Faraone had a background in essential oils and insects. It took five years, but they persevered and got the products registered with Health Canada.
“It took about five years of a lot of ups and downs [to get the spray registered with Health Canada].”
Killing ticks in the dryer
Lisa reminds listeners that putting clothes in the dryer after being outdoors is one way to find and kill ticks. As added protection, Lisa recommends adding repellant to their wool dryer balls to get the scent into clothing and to separate clothing.
“To kill ticks…When you come in, you take off your clothes, you throw them in the dryer because high heat can kill them…you put the scent on (the wool dryer balls)…it’s just an extra added protection.”
For dogs and horses too
Although AtlanTick repellents are registered for humans, the ingredients are also safe for dogs and horses. They can be applied to animals as well as on a bandana or AtlanTick Lava Band/Collar. Lisa notes that rather than spraying a dog’s face directly, it’s best to spray your own hands then rub on the scent. Ticks are attracted to the CO2 (carbon dioxide) that dogs breathe so applying scent near a dog’s mouth can counteract the scent of CO2.
As well as the personal tick repellant, Lisa reveals that research and development is underway on other products including those aimed at killing ticks, not just repelling them. Lisa informs listeners that they can find AtlanTick products in stores across Canada or order them online on the AtlanTick website.
“With Health Canada the spray is registered for humans, but the oils that we use are safe on dogs and horses.”
Nancy explains that several peer reviewed articles relating to AtlanTick products and ingredients are contributing to our knowledge base about ticks. She points to research that is aimed at understanding tick behaviour, including how they respond to a variety of scents. She explains that Dr. Nicoletta Faraone conducted research in which electrodes were placed in ticks’ brains to see how they respond to different stimuli. Research has also been conducted on the Haller’s organ, which is a sensory organ on the end of a tick’s leg.
“As we’re doing this work, we are discovering so much about the physiology of ticks and how they work…There have been a number of articles, peer reviewed scientific articles that have been published since we began this work with Acadia University.”
Educating the public
Nancy describes some of the ways their company is helping educate the public about ticks and Lyme disease. She emphasizes the importance of keeping skin covered, staying on trails, avoiding moist, shady and overgrown vegetation. She reiterates that ticks are attracted to carbon dioxide, and that children and pets are more at risk because they are closer to the ground and more likely to come in contact with tick habitats.
“A lot of what we do with AtlanTick is try to educate the public…even though Lyme is really prominent in our own lives, we know that it’s really not in the face of everybody across the country and we think it should be.”
Human trials and co-infections
Nancy also explains that product development has included human trials with “clean” ticks that are not carrying pathogens. The research involves Black-legged as well as Dog ticks, which can transit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. Nancy points out that ticks can transmit Lyme disease, as well as up to 18 or 20 different pathogens that can also cause infections.
“Typically if you’re going to be bitten by a tick and acquire one of these things, it’s usually not on its own. The pathogens are often bundled and so we’re trying to help people not just avoid Lyme, but avoid up to, I think, 18 to 20 different pathogens at this point that can be quite detrimental.”
Nancy explains that terpenes are the scent molecules found in the essential oils they use in their products. Although they have a pleasant smell to humans, ticks find them very unpleasant, making them recoil when the scent is detected.
The DEET problem
Sarah and Nancy talk about some of the negative impacts of DEET. Nancy points out that it is known to degrade plastics and other polymers which can impact safety gear and protective coatings such as those found on powerlines.
Both Lisa and Nancy leave our listeners with some final words of advice; be vigilant with prevention, use repellants and do your daily tick checks! Thank you Lisa and Nancy for continuing to help everyone stay safe in the outdoors!
“Be aware also that they [ticks] are attracted by scent. Scent is their primary hunting tool…they’re looking for CO2 which is why children and dogs, or animals are often the population that seems to acquire the tick bites the most because they’re shorter, they’re breathing right into the areas (where ticks are).”
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