As the weather warms ticks emerge in their tiny nymph form. These small blood sucking insects carry diseases, bad ones.
April, May, June, July and August are when most people get infected, according to the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health. Ticks become active when the temperature reaches 7 degrees. In 2023, they have started to emerge early due to unseasonably warm temperatures.
A recent study reported by RTS reveals that climate change is increasing the risks in Switzerland. The hospitable environment for ticks in Switzerland increase by two thirds between 2009 and 2019, an increased area of 4,000 km2. In addition, reported number of tick bites rose from around 10,000 a year between 2012 to 2016 to 14,000 a year between 2017 and 2021, a rise of 40%.
The most common tick-borne infection is Lyme borreliosis, a bacteria which can eventually attack the joints, heart, and nervous system. The first symptom is usually a rash near the bite, although some don’t get this, combined with flu-like symptoms, memory loss and joint pain.
Treatment is a course of antibiotics. Those treated early typically recover suffering no long term damage. Left untreated the disease can lead to brain, heart and joint disability. It is important to treat the disease as early as possible, so if you get it go to your doctor smartly.
Unfortunately, there is no vaccine for Lyme disease.
Lyme disease bacteria was discovered by Willy Burgdorfer in the US in 1980. The name Lyme comes from an eponymous US town in Connecticut which was a hotspot for the disease.
It has been around for a long time. In 2010, Lyme disease bacteria was found in the remains of Ötzi the iceman, a 5,300-year-old mummy discovered in a thawing glacier in the Alps.
In Switzerland, around 5% to 30% (sometimes as high as 50 %) of ticks are infected with Borrelia burgdorferi (Lyme disease), according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH).
Every year, an estimated 10,000 people are infected with the bacteria in Switzerland. And cases are on the rise.
The other serious tick-born disease is the tick-borne encephalitis virus. There is no treatment for this, however there is a vaccine. In 2020, 454 people in Switzerland were reported to have been infected with this virus in Switzerland. Around 0.5% to 3% of ticks in Switzerland are infected with the it. Symptoms include flu-like symptoms and brain swelling. Those with the virus are closely monitored and sometimes given drugs to reduce brain swelling. 1% to 2% die from the disease.
Since 2019, vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis has been covered by basic Swiss health insurance and is recommended across nearly all of Switzerland. This map shows where cases have been reported, and this map where vaccination is recommended. There are phone apps, developed by ZHAW University in Zurich that can be downloaded for Apple and Android devices. These show zones where the risk of tick bites are highest.
Tick bites where tick borne encephalitis was reported in Switzerland are shown on the map below – data covers 2012 – 2022.
Ticks are carried by animals. In Switzerland, when they’re not on a host they live on the ground. To get from the ground to their hosts they typically cling to grass, bushes and other plant material and jump when close.
Avoiding long grass and wearing long pants tucked into socks is the best defence. The more covered you are the better. Spraying insect repellent on to your pants, socks, shoes and other clothing helps too.
Checking your body when home is important. If you find any ticks be sure to remove them carefully with special tweezers. It is important to grip them close to your skin and avoid squeezing them.
Animals must be checked too. Dogs are easily infected by these diseases and suffer similar symptoms to humans.
Swiss Federal Office of Public Health – Lyme disease (in French) – Take a 5 minute French test now
Swiss Federal Office of Public Health – Tick-borne encephalitus (in French)