Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral infection (flavivirus) of the brain and as the name indicates is spread by ticks.
Ticks are found almost throughout the world but not all of them are infected with tick-borne encephalitis. Virus-bearing ticks are found in Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, the eastern areas of France and southern parts of Germany. The encephalitis virus is rare in the Netherlands.
In most cases, tick-borne encephalitis occurs without any severe symptoms. There can sometimes be an influenza-like reaction. This ‘flu’, however, after initial improvement, can turn into a severe infection of the brain with meningeal inflammation accompanied by fever, headache, stiff neck and vomiting. Anyone contracting the condition in its severe form can suffer from a variety of neurological symptoms for the rest of his or her life.
Ticks live in the wild. They are spider-like creatures which hide in high grass or thick shrubs. They bite to fasten themselves onto the skin of a human or animal. Ticks can be infected by viruses, including tick-borne encephalitis. Humans can be infected if bitten by ticks or if they drink unpasteurised milk. Most infections occur in summer or early autumn, which is the peak time for ticks.
If you are going to spend time outdoors, to avoid infection always wear clothing that covers the entire body. When you get back home, check your body for ticks. These creatures prefer dark, warm places such as the hollows behind the knees, the armpits or the groin area. If you are bitten, although a tick clings to the skin, it can be removed. This should be done very carefully and as soon as possible. The longer the tick remains on the body, the higher the risk of infection with tick-borne encephalitis. To remove ticks properly hold the insect’s head between the nails of the thumb and index finger or with a small pair of tweezers and pull it perpendicularly to the skin. So-called “tick tweezers” are sadly often not suitable for removing ticks. Alcohol or a lighted cigarette should not be used to remove a tick.