What you need to know about ticks for a trip to the countryside

Danger zones in Brandenburg

What you need to know about ticks for a trip to the countryside

Sat 07.05.22 | 08:39 paradite | from Georg Stefan Russew

Photo: Perspective / photo alliance

For the first time this season, Brandenburg has identified TBE risk areas. Even a walk outside with a tick bite can cause the disease. What to consider for the vampire now. By Georg-Stefan Russew

With temperatures around 20 degrees and sunny, many of them will probably be pulling out on the weekends. But beware! A small hazard lurks in meadows and forests, which can become a big problem – ticks. Insects belonging to the group of mites are especially active in the months of March to July, explains biologist and tick expert from Berlin Martin Komorek. [zecken-radar.de]. With one bite, eight-legged arachnids can transmit bacteria and viruses that cause diseases such as Lyme disease and TBE.

What do you know about ticks?

According to Komorek, there are about 25 species of ticks in Germany and about 1000 worldwide. Their size is about three to four millimeters, which is roughly the size of a needle head. In our latitude, common wood ticks are the most widespread species of ticks.

Hardwood loves heat and is already active at an air temperature of around eight degrees, as Christine Klaus, a veterinarian specializing in microbiology and parasitology at the Friedrich Loeffler Institute (FLI) in Jena, explained. The constant heat in Brandenburg is extremely conducive to tick activity. On the other hand, extreme drought is their number one enemy. According to the scientist, ticks need a certain level of humidity.

Ticks are arachnids with eight legs. The head, torso and legs are called idioms. The part of the body that includes parts of the mouth is called the gnathosoma. With a serrated bite, the ticks collect food – the blood of humans or animals.

Where are the ticks?

Contrary to many people’s beliefs, ticks are not found mainly in meadows and tall grass, but in forests, Klaus continues. There are twice as many ticks per square meter – mostly in deciduous and mixed forests – than in meadows. Studies have shown that. In coniferous forests, the subsoil is simply too dry for animals, explains scientist Christine Klaus.

In general, adds biologist Komorek, ticks can be found where it is wet and shady. It explicitly mentions animal paths, roads and forest clearings, as well as transition areas from one vegetation to another. Ordinary wood is increasingly found in the city, for example in city gardens and parks.

Ticks wait days, sometimes weeks for a host. Within a few moments, the ticks catch their prey. They sting their hosts in a hidden place, damaging the best blood vessels. They know their prey by smell, body heat and / or carbon dioxide, Komorek explains.

Ticks are usually not noticed on the body because they are too small. On the other hand, the parasite when it bites and cements it with secretions releases a kind of anesthesia in order to bind tightly to the host, Klaus explains. This “cement” dissolves when the ticks have swallowed the flour.

Are there areas that require special care?

For the first time this season, the Robert Koch Institute [rki.de] three Brandenburg regions as TBE (tick-borne encephalitis) risk areas due to tick risk. This year, ticks spread to arachnids, particularly in the districts of Oder-Spree, Oberspreewald-Lausitz and Spree-Neisse. There are 175 risk areas across the country. The numbers depend on the weather and the degree to which people are out.

What makes ticks dangerous?

According to Komorek, ticks are not dangerous in themselves. However, they are so-called vectors – ie. carriers of pathogens. If the tick bites a sick host animal, it gets the pathogens during the act of sucking and can pass them on to humans and other animals without getting sick on its own, Komorek says. In humans, diseases such as Lyme disease or meningitis or spinal cord inflammation (TBE) can occur.

Among other things, the common wood carcass can transmit Borrelia (Borrelia burgdorferi), which then Lyme disease trigger. This is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to humans by tick bites and is widespread throughout Germany. It can affect various organs, especially the skin, nervous system and joints. There is no vaccination yet. According to estimates, every third tick is infected with Borrelia, depending on the region, Komorek explains.

However, and this is the good news, the bacterial transmission time is slightly longer at 12-24 hours, so not every tick bite should cause Lyme disease. The sooner the tick is removed, the lower the risk of transmission, says Komorek. Therefore, the biologist recommends that after the visit to the forest be well checked for ticks.

It’s different with Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) by – a disease transmitted by viruses. It usually manifests as meningitis and can result in serious damage. There is no antiviral drug and compared to Lyme disease, clinical TBE is usually more serious, but according to Komorek it is also relatively rare. According to studies, there is a 1 in 150 chance of being affected by TBE after a tick bite in a dangerous area, he says.

Because the virus is found in the salivary glands of ticks, it is transmitted immediately, Klaus explains. However, there is an effective vaccine for TBE and one is immune, according to the researcher. Therefore, vaccination is a good precaution to reduce the risk of TBE after a tick bite. Vaccination for children and adults should be updated at regular intervals.

According to Klaus, 80 to 90 percent of TBE cases in Germany occur in southern Germany, particularly in Bavaria and Baden-W├╝rttemberg. The further south you travel, for example to the Czech Republic, Austria or Switzerland, the more frequent cases of TBE occur. Studies have shown that TBE viruses have been detected even at an altitude of over 1500 meters. In Germany, a small proportion of cases lead to serious illness and, in rare cases, death. The scientist advises all those who like to be outside and travel south to TBE risk areas, to be vaccinated.

Can animals be affected as well?

In particular, dogs can be affected by tick bites. These can in the so-called canine malaria even dies. babesiosis what is this disease called, explained Martin Komorek. Unlike the previous two diseases, it is not the wood tick that is the carrier here, but the alluvial forest ticks (Dermacentor reticulatus). According to Komorek, this has spread north and east within Germany over the past two or three decades and can now be found in most federal states. Relevant cases have recently been reported in the Forst area (Spree-Neisse).

Dogs can also get Lyme disease or TBE as a result of a tick bite. According to Komorek, cats contract diseases such as Lyme disease or TBE much less frequently than dogs. However, transmission of tick-borne diseases cannot be completely ruled out.

How can you protect yourself from the consequences of a tick bite?

There is no 100% protection. According to Martin Komorek, however, there are some strict rules. So you should avoid staying on long grass or under plants. You should also wear closed clothes if you are out and about in the woods. Socks fit best in pants. It is good if they wear light colored clothes. This makes searching easier. Insect repellents should also be used for pets. After a visit to the woods, you should always check for ticks – especially the back of the knees, stomach and chest area and the hip area.

Ticks that have been sucked in should be removed quickly. In the case of wood tick, this minimizes the risk of infection with Borrelia, Komorek points out. The biologist recommends that you catch it closely. The parasite should not be squeezed, in any case it should be expelled slowly and in a controlled manner. This can be done either by hand or with a tool such as tweezers.

The bite site should then be checked to make sure all parts of the tick have been removed. Then everything must be disinfected. If the rash around the puncture site does not disappear or even spreads, you should consult a doctor, advises the tick researcher.

Contribution by Georg-Stefan Russew

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