Ticks in the Summer: effective protection against bites and diseases


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Ticks lurk in the grass or on bushes. Tick ​​bites can transmit TBE and Lyme disease. Proper clothing, insect sprays with DEET or Icaridin and a vaccination protect you.

The most common type of tick in Germany is the common wood tick – called Ixodes ricinus in Latin – from the family of shield ticks. The red-brown animal is 2.5 to 4 millimeters in size. These ticks crawl on eight legs and have pine claws with a sting on its black head. The little bloodsuckers not only love dog and cat blood, but also that of people. The parasites usually wait about one meter above the ground for food – even in well-tended parks or gardens in the city. In a split second, they cling to living beings passing by. Ticks cannot jump or fall from trees; direct contact is necessary.

Tick ​​sting or tick bite: what is right?

Ticks do not bite through clothing, they first cling to it and have to find an entrance to the skin. Then the teats go in search of a well-perfused, slightly moist area of ​​skin. Once this is found, the animals open the skin with their mouthparts (chelicerae) and drill their proboscis (hypostome) into the tissue in order to suckle. The saliva prevents the blood from clotting and closing the wound. That is why one does not speak of a tick bite, but of a tick sting. Ticks need a lot of time to suckle. This can take up to eight days for adult ticks. In doing so, they swell and become more than an inch in size.


Tick ​​protection: Long clothes and DEET or Icaridin sprays

As a preventive measure, it makes sense to wear long trousers when walking in the woods and to tuck the ends of the trouser legs into your socks. Tick ​​sprays with DEET and Icaridin are only effective in combination with other protective measures, warn consumer advocates. It can take hours before the tick sticks: often enough time to spot it. After a trip you should shake out your clothes and search your body for ticks – even in hidden places. 

Protection against tick bites and infections includes:

  • Wear light-colored clothing that covers the skin as completely as possible.
  • Closing the entrances : tuck the shirt into the trousers and the trouser legs into the socks.
  • Apply anti-tick agent (repellant) with the active ingredients DEET or Icaridin to the skin. The important thing here is to reapply the agent every two to three hours. The eight-hour protection promised by some manufacturers is not realistic.
  • Take tick tweezers, tick tweezers or tick cards with you for safe removal.
  • Shake out clothes, preferably over the light bathtub, so the ticks are clearly visible.
  • Check the body for ticks : Also look closely at protected skin areas such as armpits, navel, scalp, groin or the genital area.
  • Timely TBE vaccination when traveling to risk areas: There are usually three for full vaccination protection Vaccinations required.

How to remove ticks: Ideally with tweezers, pliers or a card

A tick that has stung the skin needs to be removed as soon as possible. To do this, grasp the tick with pointed tweezers or special tick tongs just above the skin and pull it out completely. Shake it gently. Removal is particularly easy with a so-called tick card. Both tools are available in pharmacies. If no tools are available, work with your fingernails or a thread. Use a magnifying glass if available. 

Do not crush or squeeze the animal’s body. Do not kill the animal before removing it. Then thoroughly disinfect the puncture site and mark or photograph it so that you can identify any later redness.

Diseases caused by tick bites: Lyme disease and TBE

The tick bite itself is harmless to humans, but pathogens can be transmitted in the process: including the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, which can cause Lyme disease, and the virus for early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE). The risk of transmission is initially very low, but increases significantly after twelve hours of suction. Then the animal is already noticeably swollen.


1. Lyme disease: watch out for wandering red after a tick bite

Lyme borreliosis is widespread and occurs all over Germany – it is estimated that tens of thousands of people develop it every year. With regional fluctuations, infected ticks pass the bacterium on to up to 5.6 percent of those bitten. In Germany, a maximum of 1.4 percent of those stung get sick according to Robert Koch Institute.

The symptoms are varied and, like the flu, usually begin with exhaustion, joint pain, muscle pain, fever or night sweats. Neuroborreliosis with nerve pain and paralysis can occur as a complication . Diagnosing the disease is often difficult. If infected people have formed antibodies, they can be detected using a blood test.

The so-called wandering redness is a sure sign of Lyme disease, which occurs around the puncture site in around 90 percent of infections – even weeks later – and increases in size. Such spots should be shown to a doctor immediately. A diagnosed Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics. There is currently no vaccination against the disease. However, researchers are currently developing a vaccine for early detection.


2. Meningoencephalitis (TBE) risk areas: Vaccination protects against meningitis

The second known disease that ticks can transmit is much less common: early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE). Several hundred people develop it in Germany every year. The Robert Koch Institute shows on a map the affected risk areas. In addition to southern Germany, this includes the Lower Saxony district of Emsland, Austria, Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

About ten days after infection with TBE, symptoms appear that initially resemble those of flu with pain in the limbs, headaches and fever. In around ten percent of those affected, the meninges become inflamed, in severe cases also the brain and spinal cord. Most of the time, the disease heals completely without therapy. However, it can be fatal in elderly or debilitated people. Because it is a viral disease, antibiotics have no effect.

There is a multistage vaccination against TBE, which offers good protection, but has to be refreshed regularly. Anyone who goes on vacation in risk areas should think about getting the TBE vaccination protection.

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