Blood-sucking ticks lurk in cities, countryside

Erik Karits/

Compared to spiders, which are usually harmless in Germany, blood-sucking ticks have become far more relevant to health and can be pretty dangerous if their bites go unnoticed or symptoms are underestimated. Until recently, only parts of Germany were regarded as “tick hotspots,” but nowadays ticks occur all over Germany.

Ticks can be found virtually everywhere, including gardens and even cities. The most relevant species to humans is the European wood tick, which can transmit two types of diseases: Lyme disease (borreliosis) and meningoencephalitis.

Lyme disease is caused by bacteria that are spread by infected ticks. No vaccine is available, and it can only be treated with antibiotic therapy.

Lyme disease produces a characteristic set of symptoms including an expanding skin rash (bull’s eye rash) appearing at the site of the tick bite within a week. For those who have been infected, it is imperative to start a course of antibiotics as soon as possible to prevent the onset of the disease in bursts, which can be extremely severe and lead to hardly curable long-term effects.

The early summer meningoencephalitis, known as FSME in Germany, is caused by a virus and occurs after an incubation period of one to two weeks, marked by symptoms similar to the signs of a flu, including fever, headache, fatigue, nausea and muscle pain. After a week, symptoms may escalate to include stiff neck, disorientation, seizures, even paralysis.

Long-term effects may include memory and speech problems, mood disorders, epilepsy, and motor skill difficulties. FSME can also be transmitted through unpasteurized cow and goat milk. Confirmed cases in Germany must be reported to health authorities. A vaccine is available.

There are several steps one can take to avoid tick problems. Since they prefer a moist environment like broadleaf and mixed woodland, long-sleeved and light-colored shirts and pants should be worn and pant legs tucked into socks when hiking in wooded areas. Tall grasses and shrubs should be avoided in favor of hiking trails.

A tick repellent can be applied in addition to sunscreen. After arriving back home, one should examine the body (and pets) for ticks. If discovered in time, a tick can be removed using tweezers – by grasping the tick’s head and pulling away from the skin.

After washing the skin with soap, one should apply a disinfectant. It is important to watch for possible signs of an infection and even to show the tick to the doctor.