Am I at risk from tick-borne diseases?

Don’t let a tick bite spoil your trip. Ticks are small arachnids (a group which includes spiders) that attach themselves to humans or animals to feed on blood. They are vectors (carriers) of several diseases. But should you be concerned, and do you need to get the tick-borne encephalitis vaccine?

Who is at risk from ticks?

There are some groups who are more likely to pick up a tick on their travels. If you will be working in forestry or agriculture or engaging in outdoor pursuits such as camping, mountain biking or walking, you need to think about protecting yourself from tick bites.

What can I catch from a tick bite?

Like many bloodsucking creatures, ticks can pass on infections involving bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Here are some illnesses you can catch from a tick bite.

  • African tick bite fever
  • babesiosis
  • Boutonneuse fever
  • Colorado tick fever
  • Crimean Congo haemorrhagic fever
  • ehrlichiosis
  • Flinders Island spotted fever
  • Heartland virus
  • Lyme disease
  • Q fever
  • Queensland or Australian tick typhus
  • rickettsia pox
  • Rocky Mountain spotted fever
  • tick-borne encephalitis
  • tick-borne relapsing fever
  • tularaemia
  • typhus (including scrub typhus, murine typhus and epidemic typhus).

Some of these are very rare, but they can be hard to diagnose and some, particularly Lyme disease, have an extended recovery period during which the patient suffers from fatigue, joint pains and memory problems.

In particular, you should take note of Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), which affects the brain and can result in permanent neurological damage. Most cases of TBE are picked up from the bite of an infected ixodes tick. You can get a tick-borne encephalitis vaccine before your trip abroad.

What are the symptoms of TBE?

The symptoms of TBE emerge two weeks after infection and, as with other types of encephalitis, can be described as flu-like. Nausea, lethargy and muscle pain are common in TBE. If the infection progresses to encephalitis (swelling of the brain), paralysis can ensue or even death.

When is tick-borne encephalitis a problem?

Tick-borne encephalitis can be contracted from late spring until early autumn in Austria, the Balkans, the Czech Republic, European Russia, Hungary and Slovakia, as well as in the forests of Scandinavia. It is also present in the far eastern parts of the Russian Federation, Mongolia and northern China. Trekkers and walkers may be exposed to ticks.

The virus is occasionally picked up from drinking unpasteurised milk so it’s important to be aware of this risk.

How can I protect myself from TBE?

There is a tick-borne encephalitis vaccine and you should ask your adviser at NX Travel Health Clinics for more information if you think you are at risk from TBE. You should also get advice about avoiding tick bites.

How can I avoid tick bites?

Even if you’ve been vaccinated against tick-borne encephalitis, you’ll still want to avoid tick bites while travelling. This is because many of the diseases carried by ticks have no vaccine. To prevent ticks attaching themselves to you, wear long sleeves and trousers impregnated with insect repellent. You can also tuck your trousers into your socks.

Ticks prefer long grass and vegetation so stick to clear trails and don’t bash paths through undergrowth.

What should I do if a tick bites me?

Even with the best precautions against tick bites, it’s still possible to pick up a tick. Check your body daily for ticks. Any ticks that do attach themselves should be removed promptly and without squeezing the body of the tick. The Lyme Disease Association has a helpful set of instructions for removing ticks.