Are ticks life-threatening in humans

Where ticks attach themselves to in Germany

  • Ticks are active from temperatures of 8 degrees
  • Increased risk of tick infections
  • Five new TBE risk areas -
    for the first time in Saxony-Anhalt including
  • Lyme disease risk everywhere -
    Registration is only mandatory in nine federal states

When the weather is nice, people are drawn to the outdoors - especially now in the Corona crisis. But ticks lurk in the green thicket of parks and forests. The small bloodsuckers do not keep their distance and can transmit the diseases of early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE) or borreliosis through their sting. In 2020, TBE infections rose to a record level with almost twice as many cases as the average for the last twenty years.

The interactive map shows how many of the two diseases were reported to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in the past five years (2016-2020) - and thus in which areas of Germany the risk is highest.

Where are TBE viruses transmitted?

TBE, in particular, can be life-threatening in serious cases. There is still an increased risk of being infected with TBE viruses from a tick bite, especially in southern Germany. TBE-infected ticks are also active in parts of Rhineland-Palatinate, Hesse, Thuringia, Saxony and Saarland. With Dessau-Roßlau, a district in Saxony-Anhalt was declared a risk area for the first time this year.

In addition, four more risk areas were added in 2021: Dillingen an der Donau (Bavaria), Fulda (Hesse), Central Saxony (Saxony) and the Weimarer Land (Thuringia). All 169 official risk areas are now hatched on the map. Occasionally, however, TBE infections also occur outside of these areas, as the map shows.

Where is the risk of Lyme disease greatest?

While there is a nationwide reporting requirement for TBE and thus a good picture of the spread, Lyme disease diseases are only reported by nine federal states. Ticks can transmit the pathogen anywhere in Germany. According to the figures, the highest risk is in the east of the country - with most cases in the last five years in Dresden and Saxon Switzerland and high values ​​in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Brandenburg.

When can ticks be expected?

The most common type of tick in Germany, the common wood tick, is already active from temperatures of around eight degrees Celsius and waits on blades of grass and bushes to cling to people and animals passing by. Especially spring, early summer and autumn are considered the high season. Ticks usually hibernate from November to late February.

However, experts have been observing for some time that they are expanding their activities due to climate change and mild winters. Due to the mild winter, there may be even more ticks than in previous years. But a spring that is too dry disrupts the development of the animals. Because bloodsuckers love a warm and humid environment.

How do ticks infect people?

Far from all ticks in Germany are automatically disease carriers. Ticks that have previously become infected by sucking blood from wild animals such as mice are particularly at risk. Borreliosis is triggered by bacteria, TBE by viruses. Neither of them can harm the tick itself.

According to the RKI, around five percent of the animals in TBE risk areas carry the virus. In Lyme disease areas, up to 30 percent of the ticks transport the bacteria. Most people speak of a tick bite. But ticks actually bite, stubbornly suck on - and can thus pass the pathogen on to people.

How dangerous is Lyme disease?

Borreliosis bacteria sit mainly in the intestines of the ticks, until they migrate from there into the biting tools, several hours pass. If you remove the tick in good time, you can often prevent an infection. Only a small proportion of people who are infected with Lyme disease also get sick - according to the RKI, it is only up to 1.4 percent.

With them, the infection is usually initially noticeable as a ring-shaped reddening around the tick bite. Fever, muscle pain, headache and tiredness can follow. If the bacteria attack the nervous system, it can lead to burning nerve pain, numbness, and impaired vision and hearing. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics. If left untreated, joint inflammation can occur as a long-term consequence.

And how dangerous is TBE?

Unlike borreliosis pathogens, TBE viruses are transmitted immediately when a tick bites. They wait in the salivary glands to be used. In order to be able to suckle unnoticed, the tick injects pain relievers with its saliva, with which the viruses then end up in the blood of the victims. TBE diseases are much rarer than Lyme disease: In 2020, the RKI registered 706 cases nationwide. Overall, however, TBE diseases fluctuate from year to year.

So far there are no drugs against TBE. However, not all infected people show symptoms. These can start with headache, body aches and fever for up to 20 days after the bite. The fever rises in such infected people, the symptoms often show up again in a second wave. Then the first signs of meningitis can appear, such as vomiting or - in some cases - impaired consciousness and paralysis, in the worst case breathing.

What is the best protection?

The Standing Vaccination Commission recommends a vaccination against TBE for everyone who lives in or traveling to risk areas. For full protection, the active ingredient is usually injected three times within a year, after which it is recommended to refresh it every three years.

It is also best to wear long, light-colored clothing in forests and meadows. In addition, insect sprays could help to keep the bloodsuckers away. You should still search after a walk in the forest.

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