A walk in the woods. A picnic. Camping. Fruit picking. These are just some of the summertime activities that can put us at risk of a rare but potentially serious disease: tick-borne encephalitis (TBE).
The disease is spread by small eight-legged parasites known as ticks and affects people of all ages. Although it is rare, cases have been reported in more than 35 countries in Europe and Asia. Central and Eastern European countries are known to be hotspots.
Ticks are found in forests and meadows, parks and gardens — and even in cities — when temperatures rise above 6℃. As well as potentially carrying TBE, they can spread Lyme disease. But while Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and can be treated with antibiotics, TBE is caused by a virus for which there is currently no cure.
A tick bite can go unnoticed and some people do not experience symptoms. However, if you are infected with the virus that causes TBE, the first phase of symptoms (after 2-7 days) can include high fever, headache, nausea and muscle spasms.
This may be followed by a symptom-free respite period (2-10 days). However, a second phase of symptoms can follow due to inflammation of the brain and spine. These symptoms include high fever, headache, nausea, vomiting and vertigo.
One in three people developed long-term effects lasting months or years: muscle weakness, paralysis, cognitive changes, loss of consciousness and disorders affecting coordination, balance and speech. TBE can be fatal in very rare cases.
How to protect against TBE
- Avoid heavily tick-infected areas of forest and woodland
- Use insect repellent
- Wearing light-coloured long-sleeved clothes (with trousers tucked into sock)
- Check your body for ticks
- Remove ticks as soon as possible using a pair of fine-tipped tweezers
- TBE vaccination (speak to your healthcare professional)
Removing a tick is a delicate process. The goal is to remove the tick swiftly, including the mouth parts which contain any bacteria or virus that the tick may have.
As explained in this guide developed by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC), tweezers should be used to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible. Pull upwards — don’t twist as this can cause the mouth parts to break off and remain in the skin. If this happens, be sure to remove the mouth parts.
Wherever you go this summer, stay safe and follow local public health guidance. Check out our Top 5 Travel Tips.