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Tick-Borne Diseases in Europe
Whereas bacteria causing Lyme disease are found in the Americas as well as in Europe and Asia, areas infested with a more dangerous tick-borne disease are concentrated in a few Central European countries: Tick-borne encephalitis, which in rare cases can be fatal, occurs mostly in Austria, the Czech Republic, Germany, and Slovenia. A far more dangerous type of tick-borne encephalitis appears in Siberia, though.
Ticks are not insects, but are related to spiders (arachnids). Fully grown, they are about the size of a mustard seed. Ticks nest in high grass and can sense passing animals or humans by their body heat. On their host, they try to find an area of soft skin, preferably in a warm region of the body, such as the armpit or behind the knee. Ticks often go unnoticed because they discharge an anesthetic when burying themselves into their host’s skin. When filled with blood, ticks quadruple in size. They may stay on their host for about 24 hours until they fall off by themselves.
Ticks are most active in late spring and during the summer months. Individual behavior plays a big role in preventing infections. The awareness of ticks as a potential threat helps a great deal to avoid falling ill. Outdoor activities, such as camping, hiking, or fishing put you at greater risk than remaining in an urban setting. But the risk of infection also depends on the time that ticks remain on their hosts. The earlier a tick is recognized, the better.
Prevention is widely regarded as the best measure to counter the threat of infection. When exposing yourself to higher risks outdoors, you can prevent the risk of being bitten with only a few simple measures: Wear long pants which are tucked into your socks, tuck in your shirt and wear long sleeves. Moreover, wearing light-colored clothing helps you to spot ticks. Keep in mind that they can remain on your clothing and easily survive some time when your clothing is stored away.
Bug sprays can help as well, but they do not offer guaranteed protection. The spray must be applied regularly, as it evaporates rather quickly. Different insect repellents are available in different concentrations. Some can be applied on your skin, whereas others should be applied on clothing only.
When returning from a trip, have somebody search your body for ticks, especially those areas you cannot see or reach yourself. Ticks prefer to nest in warm, hidden places with soft skin, such as the armpit. Detecting tick bites early is important because the risk of infection increases with time. Removing ticks quickly can prevent illnesses. Removal is also a lot easier when the tick has not yet buried its whole head into your skin.
If you are bitten after all, do not panic. With a little practice, ticks can be easily removed. You should, however, definitely not squeeze the tick. Occasionally, people will suggest to shock the tick with the tip of a burning cigarette or to apply oil or even glue before pulling off the tick together with the dried glue. These methods are not recommended.
The best way to get rid of a tick probably is to use special tweezers that are available in many pharmacies. Normal tweezers work as well. If you have neither available, grab the tick close to the skin with two fingers, and pull it out firmly. To lower the risk of infection, it is very important not to squeeze the back. If you show any of the symptoms described on page 2 of this article in the next few weeks and even later, remember the tick bite, and see a doctor soon. Any signs of flu-like illness should be paid attention immediately.
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