There are a lot of ticks this summer: how to protect yourself
This year there are a particularly large number of ticks and therefore there is a higher risk of becoming infected with dangerous pathogens. But there are various ways to protect yourself against infectious diseases such as Lyme disease or early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE).
Higher risk of infection
Health experts keep pointing out how important it is to protect yourself from ticks. The small bloodsuckers can transmit various diseases such as Lyme disease and early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE). There are a particularly large number of ticks this summer and therefore a higher risk of becoming infected with dangerous pathogens. The German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) assumes that 2018 will even be a veritable “tick year”. In a communication, the experts explain that not only the temperatures, but also beech nuts, have an impact on how much the crawling animals multiply.
Main carrier of dangerous diseases
A summer walk through the forest or through the garden can have unpleasant consequences.
Because on bushes, shrubs and grasses there are ticks, usually the common woodbuck, Ixodes ricinus, which waits patiently for a vertebrate, for example a human, to come by and take it with them.
Once it has found its place on the skin, it stabs and sucks blood until it almost bursts. However, together with its saliva, it returns part of the blood, and in some cases with unpleasant cargo.
The common woodbuck is the main carrier of early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE), a viral meningitis that can be fatal. Recently, experts reported that such infections have continued to increase.
Lyme disease is also transmitted by this type of tick.
High risk this year
While there is no cure for the TBE, but there is a preventive vaccination, there is no vaccine for Lyme disease, but a treatment option with antibiotics.
In any case, it is advisable to watch out for ticks, especially in TBE risk areas. There, more ticks are infected with viruses than anywhere else. In which regions of Germany that is the case, you can find out on the website of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI): FSME card.
"Overall, the risk is particularly high this year," said Dr. Gerhard Dobler: "We will have the highest number of ticks in the past ten years."
Since 2009, the DZIF scientist and his team at the Bundeswehr Institute for Microbiology have been researching the spread and activity of the TBE virus in Germany.
Over a period of nine years, the researchers documented the number of ticks on an infection focus in southern Germany.
To this end, they meticulously collected the common woodbuck nymphs every month - a stage in the development of ticks before they grew up. Smaller than a millimeter, these young animals are only recognizable as black dots and are often overlooked.
This makes them particularly dangerous because they can transmit diseases at this stage of development. The scientists were able to show that the selected focus of infection in southern Germany has a model character.
"If we have a lot of ticks here, then we also have these high numbers elsewhere in southern Germany," explained Dobler.
Complex prediction model confirmed
"With the help of the tick data from our model range and based on certain environmental parameters, the colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna were able to develop a model that prepares us for the ticks in the summer," says Dobler.
The Munich and Vienna model includes the number of beech nuts two years before the current summer, as well as the annual average temperature and the winter temperature the year before.
The more beech nuts there are two years before the summer in question, the more game and rodents have food and in turn serve as carriers of the ticks, which then also appear more frequently.
Dobler and colleagues have successfully used the relationships in their complex model and have already confirmed them.
For summer 2017, they predicted 187 ticks per standardized area and found 180. Almost a spot landing. With 443 ticks, the highest number of ticks ever found was predicted for 2018 and Dobler now knows that this prediction will also be met exactly.
"We have the highest number of ticks that we have collected since the start of the tests - good for the ticks, bad for us."
Prevent the risk of infection
More ticks always means an increased risk of getting sick. Lyme disease can be transmitted by ticks throughout Germany and can be found in about every fourth tick - regardless of the region.
Only vigilance after forest walks and stays outdoors helps to prevent this.
To protect themselves, experts recommend common mosquito repellants that contain the ingredients DEET or Icaridin. These make humans uninteresting as prey.
In addition, long clothing should be worn, for example, when hiking or walking through tall grass.
The faster the tick is removed, the lower the risk of developing Lyme disease.
"The risk of contracting Lyme disease during a tick bite is significantly influenced by the duration of the tick's sucking," said Dr. Frieder Schaumburg from the Institute for Medical Microbiology at the UKM (University Hospital Münster) in a message.
Correctly remove ticks
It takes up to 24 hours before the pathogens causing Lyme disease are transmitted to humans. "Therefore, after a day outdoors, you should be thoroughly checked for ticks to minimize the risk of infection," said the doctor.
"In the case of a tick bite, you should use fine tweezers to grab the tick as close as possible to the mouth tools and pull it out vertically," said Schaumburg.
He strongly advises against turning or warming up. Instead, the wound should be disinfected and monitored.
To prevent the risk of meningitis, one can and should be vaccinated, according to the DZIF scientists.
Especially in southern Germany, where the density of virus-infected ticks is higher.
According to health experts, vaccination against TBE should be given in good time before early summer, as there must be time between the three vaccination appointments. In addition, a higher sensitivity to the danger is necessary. (ad)