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Transferred by ticks: Researchers report TBE infections in northern Germany
Last year, around 500 people were diagnosed with TBE diseases nationwide - more than in more than ten years. The dangerous disease, which is transmitted by ticks, is spreading ever further to northern Germany, according to researchers. Infection is also possible through raw milk.
Carrier of dangerous diseases
Health experts keep pointing out how important it is to protect yourself from ticks. The little bloodsuckers can finally transmit dangerous infectious diseases such as Lyme disease and early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE). In the past, the latter occurred almost only in some regions of southern Germany. But researchers are now pointing out that TBE is also becoming increasingly common in the north of the republic.
As many diseases as not in a long time
Last year almost 500 people were diagnosed with TBE, the highest number in over ten years. The University of Hohenheim points this out in a press release.
Accordingly, 85 percent of cases of illness occurred in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. With 239 cases of illness, Bavaria reported the highest number since the introduction of the obligation to report by the Infection Protection Act IfSG in 2001.
The most significant increase in cases of illness occurred along the Alpine ridge. In contrast, the number of cases of illness, for example in Lower Franconia, decreased significantly in 2017.
In Baden-Württemberg, too, the number of diseases was unusually high in 2017. With 186 cases, however, it was still below the record years of 2011 and 2006 with over 210 and 288 cases, respectively.
Disease spreads to the north
At the same time, the hot spots shift, i.e. the regions in which TBE diseases occur frequently.
“Some counties that have reported illnesses for years have remained completely unremarkable in the past year. In others, the disease appeared for the first time and was particularly common at the same time, ”reported Prof. Dr. Ute Mackenstedt, parasitologist at the University of Hohenheim.
In addition, the disease spreads north. “The statistics show us completely new hot spots in Lower Saxony, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Berlin. For the first time ever, we even get disease reports from the Netherlands, ”says Mackenstedt.
New tick species in Germany
According to the experts, the danger posed by new tick species in Germany is currently still difficult to assess.
Parasitologists from the University of Hohenheim and virologists from the Institute for Microbiology of the Bundeswehr and the University of Leipzig first encountered the TBE virus in the riparian tick (Dermacentor reticulatus), which is increasingly migrating in Germany.
In the same year the tick researcher Dr. Chitimia-Dobler from the Institute for Microbiology of the Bundeswehr, Munich, the cooperation partner of the University of Hohenheim in a new way in Germany - Ixodes inopinatus - which probably immigrated from the Mediterranean.
“It is not yet clear how long this species has been native to Germany and whether it can be used as a TBE transmitter. It would also be important to clarify whether it would not bring new diseases to Germany, such as Mediterranean fever, ”said Prof. Mackenstedt.
Weather could be partly responsible for the high number of illnesses
The weather could have been a reason for the high number of diseases in 2017.
“There was a big cold spell in summer 2017. It got very warm two weeks later and another major outbreak two weeks later, ”said Prof. Mackenstedt.
"Presumably this was due to the fact that after the cold days it drove people out into the open at the time when the seasonally highest activity of Ixodes ricinus took place as the most widespread tick species."
Overall, the abundance of phenomena - new species, changing hot spots and the number of illnesses fluctuating strongly every year - is increasingly puzzling research.
Reliable TBE protection only through vaccination
Vaccination against TBE is available. Vaccination protection is recommended by the Standing Vaccination Committee (STIKO) and other health experts for people who are often outside in TBE risk areas.
Vaccination also makes sense for people working in nature, such as forest workers or farmers, as well as for holidaymakers who travel abroad in TBE risk areas.
The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) offers an overview of TBE risk areas in Germany on its website.
The medical doctor PD. Gerhard Dobler from the Institute of Microbiology of the Bundeswehr in Munich and the National Consultative Laboratory for TBE warned against underestimating the disease:
"The serious course of the disease includes paralysis, coma, seizures, defect healing and occasionally deaths." This affects adults and children equally.
In contrast, vaccination against TBE would have almost 100 percent effect, complications are extremely rare with 1.5 cases in a million vaccinations. Nevertheless, only about 20 percent of the population in Germany are vaccinated.
Infected raw milk poses a particularly high risk of illness
At the same time, vaccination also protects against a special type of TBE infection: that from raw milk, especially from grazing animals.
"In 2016, one case made headlines in which two people fell ill after eating raw milk cheese made from goat's milk," said Prof. Mackenstedt. "Last year, 8 people fell ill after drinking raw goat milk."
The tick expert reported at the time in a message: "For the first time in this case, we were able to examine the carriers (ticks), the host animals (goats), infested foods such as goat milk and raw milk cheese and the sick people."
In fact, the risk of disease after eating TBE-infected raw milk is three times higher than after the bite of infected ticks:
“Out of 100 people bitten by infected ticks, 30 develop the disease. When raw milk is infected, we observe the outbreak in 100 out of 100 people, ”says Prof. Mackenstedt.
In the 1950s, TBE diseases caused by infected raw milk were therefore comparatively common. However, due to the pasteurization of milk, the so-called “alimentary TBE” is now rather a marginal phenomenon.
Given the increasing popularity of raw milk, the experts stressed that people who consume raw milk products in a risk area for TBE must be TBE vaccinated.
However, this does not protect against other diseases transmitted by raw milk. The milk should therefore always be boiled before drinking. (ad)