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The tick season has started

As temperatures warm up in spring and summer, ticks become active again and only the onset of winter stops them in their tracks again. Contrary to what many people think, a piece of new research confirms that you can pick up a tick not only in forests and meadows, but also in your own garden. Ticks are not only rather disgusting to look at and touch, they can also transmit the diseases borreliosis and ESME early summer meningocephalitis. The German consumer organization, Stiftung Warentest, has compiled information on who would benefit from an ESME vaccination and what people can do in general to prevent being bitten by ticks.

In summer people enjoy being outdoors – but the ticks are lying in wait. As soon as temperatures rise in spring and then until deep into autumn you need to be aware of the risk of picking up a tick. And not only in the fields and forests, but even in your own back garden. A research project at the University of Hohenheim confirms this. Researchers searched systematically through around 60 gardens in the Stuttgart area. “We found ticks in all of them,” reports parasitologist Professor Dr. Ute Mackenstedt. “Even in very tidy gardens several hundred metres from the edge of the forest,” she added. The ticks are presumably spread by pets and wild animals, including rodents, birds, foxes and deer. The nearer the garden was to the forest, the more ticks were found.

The big risks: borreliosis and ESME

Ticks can carry disease germs and pass them to people when they suck their blood. One of the potentially most serious infections is borreliosis, also known as Lyme disease, a disease that damages nerves and joints. The bacteria that cause it are widely spread through the northern hemisphere, including throughout Germany. According to the Robert Koch Institute, around 1 percent of people who are bitten by a tick will go on to develop clinical symptoms of borreliosis. The treatment is to give antibiotics as soon as possible. So it’s important to head for a doctor the minute you notice any of the warning signs after being bitten by a tick. These include painful or swollen knees, or a ring of red and inflamed skin around the site of the bite that expands outwards.

Ticks also transfer the viruses that cause encephalitis, brain inflammation – ESME (Early Summer Meningocephalitis). The risk of catching ESME is lower than for borreliosis. Risk areas in Germany are mainly Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and parts of southern Hess and southeast Thuringia. In the rest of Europe, Austria is a high-risk area while the virus also exists in Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary.

ESME vaccine gives you protection

If you live in or plan to visit an ESME risk area and you spend a lot of time outdoors, then you would be well-advised to get yourself vaccinated. This is the recommendation of Germany’s Standing Committee on Immunization (STIKO). The vaccination experts commissioned by the consumer organization, Stiftung Warentest, add their voices to those of the Standing Committee. In Germany the medical insurance organizations will pay for vaccinations for people who live in risk areas and in some cases also for travellers inside Germany and abroad.

You need three injections to provide basic immunity against ESME. The first two injections are given one to three months apart. “14 days after the second injection most people have developed enough immunity for the current season,” says Dr. Curt Beil, Chairman of the professional Association of German Neurologists. More enduring protection requires a third injection nine to twelve months later. There’s also a fast route to protection – three injections within three weeks followed by a fourth injection after a year. Whichever system you follow, your ESME protection needs to be refreshed every three to five years. It is no help against borreliosis, so even if all your vaccinations are up to date, you still need to take precautions against being bitten by a tick.

Source: Stiftung Warentest