Headache, high fever, permanent disability – these are only some of the dire consequences of a tick bite. Despite a tick bite usually being entirely painless and the culprit extremely small, a bite is far from harmless.
Ticks can transmit viruses that lead to the potentially serious disease tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), as well as bacteria that cause Lyme disease. The medical sciences are only partially effective against both of these diseases. In the case of TBE, there is no causal treatment available after onset of the disease, but there are effective vaccines available to prevent it. In the case of Lyme disease, the exact opposite is the case: The disease can be effectively treated with antibiotics, but at present there is no vaccine approved in Germany.
If you want to protect yourself, you should avoid tick bites whenever possible. Our helpful tips show you how to do that.
- Try to avoid spending time in high grass or undergrowth as much as possible. Ticks feel especially at home in forest leaf litter, because the temperatures there are moderate even in winter and the humidity is high. If you stray from the path through a forest, there is always a heightened risk of coming across ticks. The long blades of grass in unmown meadows, beside pathways and on river banks are also excellent habitats for ticks on the lookout for a potential host.
- Wear clothing with long sleeves and pant legs, 'closing' any places where ticks might be able to enter. For instance, you can tuck the pant legs into your socks. Ticks climb no higher than 1.5 meters and thus tend to cling to the pant legs. Rubber boots are also good protection.
- Catch ticks early on, wearing light-colored clothes! Ticks are more easily spotted on lighter clothing. If you notice them in good time, you can simply remove them before they bite.
- Use an insect repellent. Not only does this keep bothersome mosquitoes at bay, to some extent it also deters ticks. “Stiftung Warentest” has tested the most commonly used products.
- Search your whole body for ticks after you have spent time in nature. Ticks are very small and spend time crawling about the body and clothing before they find a suitable place to bite and start sucking blood. They prefer warm and thin-skinned places on the body. For this reason, you should pay particular attention to the hollow of the knee, around the stomach and chest, as well as in the groin area. With children, the head, hairline and neck should also be thoroughly checked.
Despite all precautions, one can never be 100 percent sure of avoiding tick bites. In addition to the measures mentioned above, vaccination is another possible method of prevention. It supports your immune system in protecting against an infection with the TBE virus. The Standing Committee on Vaccination (STIKO) at the Robert Koch-Institute (RKI) recommends that residents and travelers to risk areas, who are exposed to ticks, should be vaccinated against TBE.
Borrelia, the bacteria that cause Lyme disease, sit in the intestine of the tick and thus take longer to be transmitted than the TBE virus. The window of transmission is generally between 12 and 24 hours after the tick has bitten its host, until the bacteria reach the human bloodstream. Thus, removing a tick promptly increases the chance of avoiding infection.
7 practical tips for protection against ticks
Tick protection for children
Children are much more likely to get a tick bite, but are less at risk than adults to suffer from Lyme disease or TBE after being bitten. In the summer, kids like to run and play in fields and forests, and build tree houses in the garden. Even playgrounds are not necessarily safer from ticks, especially when they are near nature. A study by the RKI found antibodies against Borrelia in the blood of a relatively high percentage of children. These children must have been bitten by ticks carrying the bacteria at least once in their lives – even though the disease might not have broken out.
There is one further small consolation: TBE in children often runs a milder course than in adults. While roughly two-thirds of adults require hospital treatment as TBE patients, this is the case for only half of the children with TBE. Vaccines especially for children, available from the 1st birthday and older, can help protect them against TBE. These vaccines are generally well-tolerated.