Röttgen · The mild winter has led to an increase in the number of native ticks. What should you be on the lookout for when you go out for a hike or walk? How is a tick removed correctly? And when do you have to go to the doctor? Here are some answers from a physician at Bonn University Hospital.
It is a threat to humans - and it benefits from climate change: the tick. "They are now on the move in the country almost all year round. The milder temperatures lead to high numbers of native ticks and the spread of new species," according to national forest protection organization “Schutzgemeinschaft Deutscher Wald”. The arachnids are active from a temperature of about eight degrees Celsius, depending on the species also throughout the year, but most often in spring and autumn.
The tick species that occurs most frequently in Germany is the common wood tick. Among other things, it is the host for Borrelia and TBE viruses. But the pathogens that cause early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE) are only found in certain risk areas. "Outside of those areas, there's no need to worry about TBE. And severe cases - such as meningitis - occur in only ten percent of infections," says Dr. Till Dresbach of the University Hospital in Bonn. The risk areas include Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and parts of Hesse. Even there, only a small proportion of ticks are infected with the virus. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), between 0.1 and five percent.
Lyme disease is the most commonly transmitted disease
The most common tick-borne disease in Europe is Lyme disease. Unlike TBE, the occurrence of the bacteria that can cause the disease is not limited to certain areas. Up to 30 percent of ticks are infected with Borrelia.
The common wood tick is found virtually everywhere there are plants - even in backyards or parks. The ticks climb up on blades of grass or bushes and if animals or people come by, they are brushed off and take hold. "They usually sit 50 centimeters above the ground," Dresbach says. Contrary to what is often assumed, they don't fall from trees. They also don't bite, but anchor themselves in the skin with the help of small barbs on their stinging proboscis.
It takes several days until the ticks have sucked themselves full. To do this, they choose a place that is as protected as possible: the head (hairline, ears), neck, armpits, crook of the arm, belly button, genital area or back of the knee. "The most important thing is to remove the tick immediately. Basically anyone can do that themselves," Dresbach says. "The longer you wait, the greater the risk of infection." TBE viruses are in the salivary glands of animals and quickly enter the host's blood after the bite. The Borrelia, on the other hand, are in the animals' intestines, so the pathogens are only transmitted after about twelve hours.
Do not apply oil or glue to ticks
To remove a tick, tweezers or a specially made tick card are suitable: Grab the tick close to the skin (never on the fully engorged body) and pull it slowly and straight out of the skin - if possible, do not turn it. Under no circumstances should oil or glue be used. This can irritate the animals and cause them to salivate with infectious agents.
When is a visit to the doctor necessary? Dresbach says: If the skin reddens (not only around the sting, the redness can migrate) and if you develop flu-like symptoms after being in a risk area.
So far, there is no effective vaccination against Lyme disease, but there is against TBE. The Standing Commission on Vaccination (Stiko) recommends it for those who live in risk areas and those who visit risk areas or spend a lot of time in the countryside in their free time. It is also recommended for people who are at risk because of their job - for example, forestry workers in risk areas. Those who want to protect themselves from tick bites should wear clothing that encloses the skin and avoid high grasslands or going into the undergrowth. (Orig. text: Dennis Scherer / Translation: ck)