Sharp fall in cases of tick-borne illnesses in Switzerland

There was a serious drop in the number of cases of people in Switzerland being infected with tick-born illnesses such as tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease in the first six months of this year, the Swiss health department has reported.

Sharp fall in cases of tick-borne illnesses in Switzerland
File photo: Depositphotos

The number of cases of TBE in the first half of 2019 was 127 against 218 for the same period last year.

Meanwhile, the number of doctor’s visits for Lyme disease was down from nearly 10,000 in the first six months of last year to 3,600 from January to June 2019.

The figures (here in German) come several months after the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) launched a campaign calling for people in affected areas to get vaccinated against TBE.

Numbers close to long-term averages

Daniel Koch of the FOPH said that it was clear less tick bites were being seen but noted that figures for 2019 were closer to long-term averages.

Read also: Zurich calls for help in fight against tiger mosquitoes

Speaking to Swiss news agency SDA, Koch warned it was too early to say whether increased rates of immunisation were part of the reason for the fall in the number of cases.

But he added it was clear people were heeding government advice on how to reduce the risk of tick bites.

Swiss health authorities say you can help protect yourself against tick bites 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.

Treatments for tick-born illnesses

Vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis, which attacks the nervous system and is potentially fatal, is particularly important given that no known treatment for the disease exists. 

People are advised to get the three preventive vaccinations, which last for 10 years, in winter to ensure that they are protected from the months of April to October when ticks are most active. 

There is no vaccination available for Lyme Disease. it must be treated early with antibiotics if complications are to be avoided.

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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.