As soon as temperatures start to rise in the spring, ticks begin to wake up. They become active at around 7⁰C. These tiny creatures – about the size of a pinhead – do not actively seek out people and animals; instead they wait until a potential host brushes past. They then transfer to the victim and begin looking for a suitable location to bite through the skin and suck the host's blood. These small spider-like creatures live from ground level up to about 1.5 metres. They can be found in the undergrowth and on the margins of forests and paths. However, they also live in meadows with tall grass and gardens with berry bushes or flowers.
The most common illnesses carried by ticks are tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease. TBE is a viral infection which leads to inflammation of the brain and the meninges (the membranes which cover the brain and spinal cord). This can be very serious and cause permanent damage, including paralysis. It can be effectively prevented by the TBE vaccination. The Federal Office of Public Health
recommends that everyone living or spending time in high-risk areas
should receive the vaccination.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria and is more common than TBE. In this case, victims usually have a circular rash around the bite. Many people also have flu-like symptoms. The infection can spread, causing swollen joints, cardiac arrhythmia (heart rhythm abnormalities) and rashes on other parts of the body. After several months the condition can become chronic, typically resulting in joint pain and changes to the skin. Although there is no vaccination against Lyme disease, it can be treated with prescription antibiotics.
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Protecting yourself against ticks
- Avoid long grass, scrub and bushes.
- Keep your skin covered when you are out in the countryside. Wear tops with long arms, long trousers and closed footwear. Tuck your trousers into your socks. Use tick repellent on skin and clothing.
- Wear light-coloured clothing on which ticks can be easily seen.
- After your walk, check your clothes and body carefully, particularly the backs of your knees, your stomach and chest, and the crotch area. If you have a child, be sure to check its head and neck.
- If your pets spend time out of doors, you should also check them regularly. Ticks that have not yet latched onto a host – a pet, for example – may transfer to a human being if they come into contact. You may want to administer a tick repellent to your dog or cat or put an anti-tick collar around its neck.
If you discover a tick, you should remove it as quickly as possible. Use tweezers to grasp the tick vertically as close to the skin as possible and pull it out slowly and firmly. It is important not to twist or squash the tick. Once it has been removed, you should disinfect the bite mark and the surrounding area.
You should see a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms within three weeks of being bitten by a tick:
- a rash around the bite mark
- flu-like symptoms
- dizziness and nausea
- joint pains and headaches