Call for more vaccinations after record year for tick infections

Swiss authorities are set to widen the net for vaccinations against tick-borne encephalitis after a record year for infections.

Call for more vaccinations after record year for tick infections
Tick-born encephalitis is fatal in around one percent of cases. File photo: Depositphotos

A total of 334 have been affected by the dangerous early summer meningo-encephalitis (ESME) virus this year – a new record and 30 percent more than all of 2017.

While only a small number of ticks carry the virus (also known as tick-borne encephalitis), a bite from one of the insects can have serious consequences for your health.

The initial stage of the disease, which comes around one to two weeks after the bite, includes flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fever, tiredness and aching muscles.

In five to 15 percent of cases, however, a second stage of the disease includes meningitis symptoms that can last for months.

Overall, some 80 percent of people infected require hospitalization, while around one percent of cases are fatal.

The risk of being bitten by a tick carrying ESME varies depending on what part of Switzerland you are in.

Now, Swiss health authorities want to widen the net on vaccinations to prevent 2019 being another record year for viral infections from ticks, according to national weekly NZZ am Sonntag.

Currently, vaccination, which is highly effective and available to adults and to children from the age of 6 up, is recommended only in localised areas where risk of infection is high. The process requires three injections with a booster shot after 10 years. The cost is covered by health insurers.

But federal and cantonal authorities, as well as the national vaccination commission, are now looking at possibly recommending vaccinations for entire cantons or even for the whole country, NZZ am Sonntag reported.

The vaccination rate is too low, a health ministry spokesperson told the paper.

Full details of the new proposals are set to appear in winter.

Swiss health authorities say you can help protect yourself against ticks by wearing tightly woven clothes and avoiding brush and low-lying vegetation.

You should also use repellent for skin and insecticide for clothing and check your body and clothing for ticks after spending time outdoors.

For more information (in English) on how to check for ticks, see here.


Swiss health authorities raise alarm over rise in tick-borne disease

Health officials are concerned about a growing number of encephalitis cases in Switzerland caused by tick bites.

Swiss health authorities raise alarm over rise in tick-borne disease
Wear protective clothing if you go into the woods. Photo by AFP

According to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), 215 cases of tick-borne encephalitis have been recorded so far this year, which more than double of 97 cases last year.

Most of these cases, 124, occurred in the past four weeks alone, compared to 59 in 2019. This year’s tally is the second-highest in two decades.

Authorities believe that hot weather and the social distancing rules prompted many people to go out into the wooded or grassy areas where the ticks live during the summer months.

A tick bite can cause Lyme disease or encephalitis, a serious condition that affects the brain and can have long-lasting neurological consequences.

READ MORE: Children in Switzerland should be vaccinated against measles if parents don't agree, court rules

While there is no treatment for the tick-borne encephalitis, there is a vaccine which the FOPH said is a good defense against this illness.  

It is recommended for adults and children from the age of six who spend time outdoors in the summer.

Vaccines are available at doctors’ offices.

Before you venture outdoors, you can check this map created by the Swiss government. It shows in which regions you are more likely to encounter ticks. 

FOPH also recommends downloading the 'tick app' which displays the current tick risk in any given area and shows the correct procedure to follow after a tick bite, among other useful functions.

The app is free for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets.

Also, before you go into wooded areas, take the following precautions:

• Wear long sleeves and trousers, tucking them into boots. Also wear socks and a hat. In other words, cover as much of your body as you can.

• Spray your clothing with a special anti-tick repellant which you can buy in a sports store.

• When you return home, remove the clothing, and check each member of the family — including pets — for ticks.

• If you find one, use fine-tipped tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward, don't twist.

• Seek medical help.