Protect yourself from the “most dangerous animal in Germany”! Ticks could mean diseases!

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Find out where dangerous ticks are lurking in Germany – and how you can protect yourself!

Ticks in Germany: This Spring and Summer make sure you enjoy the weather but be conscious of the little creatures! They can be dangerous for people and animals. Did you know that ticks cause more diseases than any other animal in Germany? That’s why researchers at the University of Hohenheim have dubbed them the “most dangerous animal in Germany”.

ticks in germany
Encephalitis Infected Tick Insect on Green Grass in the sunshine of summer. Lyme Borreliosis Disease or Encephalitis Virus Infectious Dermacentor Tick Arachnid Parasite Macro

What are ticks?

Ticks are not insects, as is often assumed, but arachnids. The adult ticks have eight legs, a rounded body, and are a few millimeters long. When a tick sucks blood, its body swells significantly.

Why are ticks considered the „most dangerous animals in Germany”?

The ticks, which are only a few millimeters in size, are often referred to as the most dangerous animals in Germany. Are they entitled to this title?
Indirectly yes. Because they have the potential to transmit a wide range of different pathogens. These include those that can trigger serious illnesses such as tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease. 

The tick remains the most dangerous animal in Germany. “There are hardly any comparable organisms that can transmit so many parasites and pathogens.

The most common type of tick in Germany is the “common wood tick”. It feeds mainly on the blood of rodents, roe deer, and red deer. Pathogens can occur in the blood of these animals, which can be transferred to the sucking tick and later passed on to humans.

What diseases do ticks transmit?

Ticks can transmit various diseases including TBE and Lyme disease. 

According to the RKI, up to 5 percent of ticks in TBE risk areas carry TBE viruses.

TBE in Germany is very potent and according to the Federal Center for Health Education, approximately every third person falls ill after being bitten by a tick infected with TBE. The viral disease can lead to dangerous meningitis, which can even be fatal – albeit very rarely.

1. TBE

What does TBE stand for?

TBE is the abbreviation for “tick-borne encephalitis”

TBE: transmission and course of the disease

Transmission

TBE viruses are transmitted to humans by tick bites. Very rarely, infections have also been reported through the consumption of raw milk from goats, sheep or cows. There is no direct transmission from person to person.

Flu-like symptoms with TBE – fever, headache, vomiting and dizziness

Most people with TBE experience flu-like symptoms with fever, headache, vomiting or dizziness one to two weeks after the tick bite. In most cases, the disease is then over. In about every tenth patient, there is a second disease peak involving the central nervous system – such as inflammation of the brain or meninges with similar symptoms as before.

In older people, the spinal cord is also often affected, which can lead to swallowing and speech difficulties, facial paralysis, and respiratory paralysis. Some of those who are seriously ill with TBE have long-lasting or permanent damage. Approximately every hundredth person whose central nervous system is affected dies from the infection.

TBE: Vaccination

The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends vaccination against TBE for all people who are in or live in TBE areas and who could be bitten by ticks. This applies to everyone who spends a lot of time in nature, such as walkers, campers, cyclists, joggers, but also forest workers and those employed in agriculture. City parks and gardens are also habitats for ticks.

In Germany, health insurance companies usually cover the costs of vaccination for vulnerable population groups. Exceptions are job-related vaccinations (e.g. for forest workers) and, depending on the health insurance company, also travel vaccinations before trips abroad.

TBE vaccines (basic immunization)

Three vaccinations are required for the primary vaccination. According to the usual vaccination schedule, the second vaccination dose is given one to three months after the first vaccination. A third vaccination is then given after a further 5 to 12 or 9 to 12 months, depending on the vaccine used.

To be protected for the current year at the beginning of the tick season from April, it makes sense to start the vaccination series in the winter months. Just 14 days after the second vaccination, 90 percent of those vaccinated have protection that is initially sufficient for the current season. The third vaccination is then required for a longer-lasting protective effect.

This “normal” vaccination scheme should be used as far as possible, especially for people who are exposed to a persistent risk of infection, as it already offers the highest protective effect after the 2nd vaccination.

TBE booster vaccinations

If the risk of infection persists, a first booster vaccination is recommended after 3 years. Subsequent refreshers are then required every 5 years. Depending on the vaccine used, the vaccine should be boosted every 3 years from the age of 50 or 60.

TBE: Frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs)

How do you remove a tick?

Ticks should be pulled straight out as quickly as possible with tweezers or a special tick removal tool. It should be ensured that the body of the tick is not squeezed as far as possible, otherwise, pathogens from the tick could be pushed into the bite site. After pulling out the tick, the area should be carefully disinfected.

Under no circumstances should glue or nail polish be applied to the tick, as this can encourage the transmission of pathogens to humans.

If signs of illness such as fever, headache and body aches, or a ring-shaped reddening in the area of ​​the bite occur shortly after a tick bite, a doctor should be consulted in any case.

At what age can children be vaccinated against TBE?

Since children love to play in nature, they are more at risk of being bitten by a tick. However, TBE is usually easier in children than in adolescents and adults. Children can be vaccinated from their first birthday. In children under three years of age, vaccination can lead to a fever reaction in up to 15 percent of cases. Therefore, at this age, it should be discussed with the doctor how high the actual risk of infection for the child is.

To protect children from other diseases that can be transmitted by ticks, such as Lyme disease, their body and clothing should be carefully checked for ticks after spending time outdoors and these should be removed as quickly as possible.

Can you still protect yourself with a vaccination after a tick bite?

Subsequent vaccination after a tick bite is not recommended, since it very probably cannot prevent infection with the TBE virus.

Should the vaccination protection against TBE be checked by a blood test?

It is only recommended for people with a disturbed immune system to check the vaccination protection one to two months after the second partial vaccination. (If the rapid schedule was vaccinated, the blood test is carried out after the third partial vaccination.) If the antibody concentration proves to be insufficient, an additional vaccination should be given.

Can all ticks transmit the virus in TBE risk areas?

Even in risk areas, not all ticks are affected by the TBE virus. Depending on the region, about every thousandth to every twentieth tick can transmit the disease. After being bitten by an infected tick, up to a third of the people bitten develop symptoms of the disease. These can be particularly serious in adults and leave permanent damage, especially in the elderly. About every hundredth patient dies from the infection. Once the disease has broken out, only the symptoms can be treated; there is no medication specifically effective against the TBE virus.

ticks in germany

2. Lyme Disease

What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease (also referred to as borreliosis) is a disease caused by an infection with bacteria of the species Borrelia burgdorferi (Borrelia). These are transmitted to humans by tick bites, direct transmission from person to person is not possible. The disease can affect various organ systems, particularly the skin, nervous system and joints. So far there is no vaccination.

Lyme disease can take many forms and vary in severity and mainly affects the skin, but the nervous system, joints and heart can also be affected. 

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria of the species Borrelia burgdorferi, which can be transmitted by ticks anywhere in Germany

The occurrence of Lyme disease in ticks varies greatly in the regions and can be up to 30 percent. Overall, symptoms of the disease can be expected in 0.3 to 1.4 percent of tick bites. Lyme disease is caused by bacteria and occurs in all parts of Germany. Undetected and untreated, it can lead to chronic damage – including to the heart or nerves.

Transmission by tick bites

The causative agent of Lyme disease, also known as Borrelia, can be transmitted to humans by a tick bite. In Germany, depending on the region, up to a third of ticks are infected with Borrelia. However, not every bite of an infected tick leads to infection. The risk of infection is also lower if the tick is removed early and increases after the tick has been sucked for more than twelve hours. Only about one in 100 tick bites in Germany results in the bitten person contracting Lyme disease.

When does the disease break out and how long are you contagious?

Many infections proceed without any visible signs of illness. A typical early sign of a disease is redness that appears a few days to weeks after the tick bite. Late forms of Lyme disease, on the other hand, can occur months or even years after the tick bite.

What do I have to consider in the event of illness?

  • Early treatment with antibiotics usually results in a speedy and full recovery. It can prevent serious illnesses.
  • A preventive administration of antibiotics after a tick bite without symptoms is not recommended.
  • If the redness mentioned above occurs, you should see your doctor immediately, even if you don’t remember a tick bite. You should also contact your doctor if symptoms such as fever, muscle aches and headaches occur after a tick bite.
  • If there is erythema, Lyme disease can be diagnosed by a doctor through a physical examination. In the case of other symptoms that indicate Lyme disease, a laboratory blood test can be carried out for clarification.
  • Surviving Lyme disease does not protect against renewed infection.

Lyme disease: Frequently asked questions and answers (FAQs)

What is the risk of getting Lyme disease after a tick bite?

The occurrence of Borrelia in ticks varies greatly in small areas and can be up to 30%. According to studies from Germany and Switzerland, a Borrelia infection was detected after a tick bite in 2.6 to 5.6% of those affected, characterized by the so-called seroconversion, i.e. the appearance of antibodies in the blood.

How long does a tick have to suck before it infects a human with Borrelia?

The Borrelia are in the gut of the tick. The tick has to suckle for a long time before the pathogen is transmitted. The risk of infection increases after a suction time of more than 12 hours. If the tick is removed early, the risk of transmission is therefore very low. Getting the tick removed by the bitten individual as quickly as possible without manipulation of the tick is of great importance in the prevention of Lyme disease.

What symptoms can occur with a Lyme disease infection?

There is no typical course of Lyme disease. In principle, it can cause numerous forms of disease in various organs, which can occur individually or in various combinations and cannot always be distinguished from other diseases without a specialist medical examination.

By far the most common form of the disease is the so-called redness (erythema migrans). It occurs a few days (to weeks) after a tick bite. This clear ring-shaped reddening of the skin is often paler in the center than at the edge. The red ring then gradually moves outwards. Other general symptoms of illness such as fever, muscle pain and headache, fatigue can also occur.

If the nervous system is affected, acute neuroborelliosis can occur.

Are you immune after a previous infection with Lyme disease pathogens?

Having gone through Lyme disease usually does not protect against re-infection.

How can I protect myself against Lyme disease?

A vaccination against Lyme disease is not yet available in Europe. A vaccination against the tick-borne viral infection TBE (tick-borne encephalitis) does not protect against Lyme disease. The best protection is therefore to avoid tick bites. If you are nevertheless bitten by a tick, removing the tick quickly will help to keep the risk of Lyme disease low.

Avoid tick bites

  • Wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and long pants when in the woods or meadows. Pull the stockings over the pant legs.
  • It is best to choose light-colored clothing, then the tiny dark ticks can be seen and removed more easily.
  • If you apply tick repellents to your skin before going into forests or meadows, follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully. Important: The effect of the funds is limited in time and does not offer complete protection.
  • Despite preventive measures, thoroughly check your body for ticks after spending time in nature. Ticks like warm, soft patches of skin. Therefore look especially in the hollows of the knees, in the groins, under the armpits, behind the ears as well as on the head and hairline

Remove ticks quickly

Ticks should always be removed as soon as possible. If a tick is removed within the first few hours after the bite, the risk of contracting Lyme disease is very low.

  • Grab the tick by its head as close to the skin as possible and pull it out slowly and straight. It is best to use tweezers, a tick card or a special tick removal tool.
  • Refrain from manipulating the tick, for example with oil, creams or by crushing it, as this may release more pathogens.
  • Disinfect the sting site carefully afterwards.
  • It can happen that residues of the tick remain after removal. This can easily inflame the skin. However, this does not increase the risk of Lyme disease.

When are ticks most active in Germany?

Ticks are active from March to November – mostly in forests, meadows, parks, and gardens. Ticks hibernate in the soil. If it gets warmer than eight degrees, they become active again and start looking for hosts. This can be animals, but also people.  They tend to stay where it is warm and humid: in the bushes, in the grass, along the way, or in the undergrowth.

► Ticks are present all year round in Germany. However, they are particularly active in spring and autumn, from a temperature of around eight degrees, which means: It is already tick season!

Contrary to what is often claimed, ticks do not fall from trees onto people. Rather, you wipe them off when you walk through tall grass or bushes, for example. Since dogs or cats run a lot through the undergrowth and bushes, they also have ticks more often.

Ticks in spring: in the grass or in the forest? Where exactly do ticks lurk in nature?

Most ticks wait in the spring in shrubs and grass or bushes, between 10 and 50 centimeters above the ground. According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), it is not the tick that runs towards humans – humans themselves wipe the ticks off the vegetation. “As a result, frequent contact with low vegetation increases the likelihood of catching a tick.” This naturally applies particularly to children playing.

In which regions of Germany are there ticks that transmit TBE? 

In Germany, TBE occurs mainly in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, but also in southern Hesse, in south-eastern Thuringia and in Saxony. Individual risk areas can be found in the districts of Marburg-Biedenkopf (in central Hesse), Saar-Pfalz-Kreis (in Saarland), Birkenfeld (in Rhineland-Palatinate) and Emsland (in Lower Saxony). 

In 2021, the districts of Dillingen ad Donau, Weimarer Land, Fulda, Mittelsachsen and the urban district of Dessau-Roßlau were identified as new risk areas. 

►169 districts in Germany are currently designated as TBE risk areas.

The RKI publishes a list of the current TBE risk areas every year. In 2022, this list was expanded to include six new regions. You should therefore be particularly careful when walking in the forest and on meadows.

ticks in germany
TBE risk areas in Germany
(Base: TBE diseases reported to the RKI in the years 2002 – 2021 with a named place of infection in a district in Germany, n = 6,442; as of January 21, 2022)

Good to know

The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends that all people who are in or live in TBE risk areas and could be bitten by ticks should be vaccinated against TBE as the safest protection against the disease.

TBE is spreading more and more in northern Germany

A total of 175 regions in Germany are classified as TBE risk areas. Most of them are in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg. However, TBE activity is becoming stronger overall in northern Germany, says Gerhard Dobler from the National Consultative Laboratory for TBE at the Bundeswehr Institute for Microbiology in Munich. 

How can you protect yourself from tick-borne diseases? Is there a vaccination against ticks?

Do you live in a TBE risk area? Then you can get vaccinated against TBE. The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends vaccination for people aged 12 and over who are in risk areas as the best protection against the disease.

In addition to German native tick species, a tropical species has now also been introduced that is up to two centimeters in size – and can carry the deadly Crimean-Congo virus.

The vaccination is paid for by the health insurance company. Caution: Not all health insurance companies pay if insured persons only travel to affected areas. It’s best to clarify this beforehand.

NOTE: STIKO advises keeping a minimum interval of two weeks between the corona vaccination and the TBE vaccination – both before and after. This makes sense so as not to overwhelm the immune system. 

Protection against ticks: Treat Lyme disease with antibiotics in contrast to TBE

In contrast to TBE, Lyme disease can be treated with certain antibiotics. But since you cannot be vaccinated against Lyme disease, you should cover your skin on fields, in the forest, and on high meadows to protect against ticks. Long pants and sleeves and sturdy shoes protect against ticks. Tick ​​repellents, which you should apply to uncovered areas of skin, also offer a certain level of protection, but this only lasts for a few hours. 

Tips on how to protect yourself against ticks in Germany

Our most important tips show you how to do this.

  • If possible, stay away from tall grass or undergrowth. Ticks feel particularly comfortable in the leaf litter in the forest, as the temperatures are moderate even in winter and the humidity is high. Away from the paved paths, there is always an increased risk of ticks in the forest. Ticks also like to use the long blades of grass on unmown meadows, along the roadside or on the riverbank to keep an eye out for potential hosts .
  • Clothing can also serve as protection against ticks: Wear closed clothing with long sleeves and long trousers and pull the socks over the trouser legs. Ticks do not climb higher than 1.50 meters and therefore prefer to cling to the trouser legs. Rubber boots can also help make it difficult for ticks to access the skin.
  • Be ahead of the ticks: with light-colored clothing! Ticks are easier to spot on light-colored clothing. If noticed in time, you can even remove the tick before it bites.
  • Use insect repellents against ticks, so-called repellents. These not only keep annoying mosquitoes but also ticks at bay for a while. 
  • Check your entire body for ticks after spending time in nature. Ticks are tiny and crawl around on the body and clothing to find a suitable puncture site to suck blood. They prefer thin and warm areas of skin. You should therefore thoroughly check for ticks in the hollows of your knees, in the stomach and chest area, and your crotch. In children, the head, hairline, and neck are also commonly affected.

Tick ​​bite despite tick protection – what should I do now?

Despite all precautions, a tick bite cannot be avoided with 100 percent certainty. In addition to the measures listed above, a TBE vaccination is also one of the possible preventive methods. It can help to reduce the risk of TBE disease. Particular caution is required, especially for people who live in a TBE risk area. The Standing Vaccination Commission (STIKO) recommends the TBE vaccination for residents and travelers in risk areas.

In the case of Lyme disease, on the other hand, there is still a small rest period after the tick has already bitten: the pathogen needs at least 12 hours to be transmitted to the human organism. Removing a tick quickly can help prevent this pathogen.

Types of ticks you can find in Germany

1. The common wood tick – the most common tick species in Germany

ticks in germany
The common wood tick is the most widespread tick species in Germany.

The common wood tick belongs to the Ixodes ricinus family of ticks and prefers dense undergrowth, forests, and adjacent clearings. This tick species can also occur in gardens or city parks. 

The common wood tick is also referred to as the castor bean tick

When fully grown, it reaches a size of up to 4.5 millimeters. The hosts of the wood tick are wild animals such as deer or small animals such as birds and mice, but cats, dogs, or people can also be infested by it. The stitches are largely painless. However, the wood tick can transmit, among other things, Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and thus also become dangerous for humans.

2. The Auwald tick is particularly dangerous for dogs

ticks in germany
This type of tick is mainly found in moors, lowland and deciduous forests.

The alluvial forest tick Dermacentor reticulatus is less known and also less risky for humans. It also belongs to the ticks. It lives mainly in wet areas such as moors and alluvial forests as well as deciduous forests. 

Dermacentor reticulatus is also also known as the ornate cow tick, ornate dog tick, meadow tick, and marsh tick, is a species of tick from the family Ixodidae.

Adult animals are about 5 millimeters long. However, a fully engorged female swells up to 16 millimeters when sucking blood. In the larvae and nymph stage, the alluvial forest tick chooses small rodents as hosts. 

As an adult parasite, the Auwald tick targets larger animals such as dogs, horses, cattle and sheep, or various wild animals. Occasionally people are also bitten. The bite of the alluvial forest tick is described as painful. Like the common woodbuck, it can transmit TBE. Their sting is particularly dangerous for dogs, as the causative agents of babesiosis (canine malaria) can be transmitted.

3. The brown dog tick can transmit tick fever

ticks in germany
The name says it all: The brown dog tick is primarily aimed at dogs.

The name says it all for this member of the tick family: the brown dog tick Rhipicephalus sanguineus mainly chooses dogs as hosts. Originally, it comes from warmer areas such as Africa and southern Europe, but with the course of climate change, it also gained a foothold in Central Europe. 

Rhipicephalus sanguineus commonly called the brown dog tick is also referred to as kennel tick, or pantropical dog tick

The habitats of the brown dog tick are dry areas. It grows to around 3 millimeters when fully grown. As with the alluvial forest tick, only the female ticks grow when they are fully engorged: in this case up to 12 millimeters. In the case of a tick bite, this tick can be the carrier of diseases, in particular, there is a risk of infection with babesiosis viruses, but also anaplasmosis and Ehrlichiosis (tick fever).

4. The sheep tick can also transmit dangerous diseases to animals

ticks in germany
The sheep tick Dermacentor marginatus is also a shield tick and lives mainly on pastures and dry grassland as well as near the edge of forests. 

The sheep tick Dermacentor marginatus is also a shield tick and lives mainly on pastures and dry grassland as well as near the edge of forests. 

The body of the tick is around 3.5 to 5 millimeters long; the females, saturated with blood, reach a size of up to 15 millimeters. 

Larvae and nymphs prefer to infest small rodents. Sheep and hares are among the favorite victims of adult sheep ticks, but dogs and cats are also affected. Humans are only stung in very rare cases. This tick can also transmit dangerous diseases to animals, such as the causative agents of Q fever (Query fever). However, this has not yet been scientifically clarified.

5. Hyalomma ticks are rather rare in Germany

ticks in germany
The Hyalomma tick Hyalomma marginatum was also able to gain a foothold in our latitudes thanks to the increasingly mild winters.

The genus Hyalomma is a tropical tick species that have also been found in Central Europe in the recent past. It is native to arid and semi-arid regions of Africa, Asia, and Europe. Due to the increasingly mild winters, the Hyalomma tick Hyalomma marginatum was also able to gain a foothold in Central and Northern Europe. 

Unlike other ticks, it is 1 to 2 centimeters long and has conspicuously striped legs. Adult specimens of this species choose large animals or humans as hosts. Hyalomma ticks are suspected to be carriers of Crimean-Congo fever and tick-borne spotted fever, both of which can be dangerous to humans.

6. The Blacklegged tick / Deer tick Ixodes inopinatus is still little explored

ticks in germany
The Ixodes inopinatus is so far unexplored that it has not yet been given a German name. 

Blacklegged ticks / Deer ticks are more native to southern countries but also builds up populations in German-speaking countries. The adult females reach a size of up to 4 millimeters, the males are a little more than half as big. This tick can also transmit pathogens, such as Borrelia burgdorferi, which can cause Lyme disease. There is no one tick: there are around 850 different species of ticks worldwide.

Other tick species that can occur in Germany:

  • The hedgehog tick Ixodes hexagonus is native to all of Europe and usually infests not only hedgehogs but also predators such as martens or foxes, sometimes also dogs or cats. Humans are also potential hosts, albeit rarely affected. As is usual with ticks, the female is larger than the male. It reaches a size of up to 4.5 millimeters. This tick can also transmit pathogens, namely those of Lyme disease and TBE.
  • The pigeon tick Argas reflexus belongs to the leather tick family. In keeping with its name, it prefers pigeons as hosts. Humans are only stung when pigeons are not available as hosts. Fully fed animals of this species reach a size of up to 10 millimeters in females and 4 millimeters in males.

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