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Ticks - dangerous insects in Germany

I will never forget the moment my little daughter stood in front of me and softly said, "Mum, I can't smile anymore!".


It was on a Saturday. That day I thought my daughter must be in a bad mood. She scowled and wanted to be left alone. "Well, I'll just leave her then," I thought.


I didn't have time to worry about bad moods either. We were invited by friends and so I had to pack everything you need for an afternoon with friends when you have three small children: a present, of course, but also diapers, a change of clothes, mud pants...


Only when we were about to drive off did this sentence come out: "Mum, I can't smile anymore!"

She couldn't move one side of her face anymore!


Maybe it was just a mosquito bite - so we hoped. After all, she was otherwise fine, she had no pain and no fever.


So we drove off to our friends. But when it didn't get any better after two hours, we went to the doctor in the on-call practice. The doctor found that the left side of her face was actually paralyzed and she couldn't even close her left eye. He immediately sent us to hospital, where she (and of course me, too) had to stay for several days.


The diagnosis:

Our daughter had Lyme disease (Borreliose) - a disease transmitted by ticks.



What are ticks?


Biologically, the tick is an arachnid. It's a parasite that's found almost everywhere in the world. Their diet is blood from humans and vertebrates such as dogs or cats.





As the tick feeds on blood, it becomes heavier and larger. If the tick is saturated, it simply drops.


A tick can survive for a long period of time on a single meal of blood. In the laboratory, ticks were found to live for up to ten years without another meal!


In the wilderness, ticks live for an average of three to five years. Male ticks usually live until after mating, females die after laying their eggs.



Developmental stages of the tick


A tick has three different stages of development in which it looks very different.

  • Larva: The larvae of the tick are white and up to 0.5 millimeters in size. They only have 3 pairs of legs.

  • Nymph: This is the tick as a juvenile. Nymphs are about 1–2 mm in size. Their body is white to transparent.

  • Adult tick: They grow to about 2-4 mm. Females can even grow up to 12 mm when full.

The female tick now needs another blood meal to lay eggs.



Why are ticks dangerous?


If a tick is infected with a pathogen, it may pass that infection on to a human.


In Germany there are two serious diseases that are transmitted by ticks:

Lyme disease (Borreliose) and TBE (FSME).


Where can I get ticks?


Many people believe that ticks drop from trees. However, this is not correct.



Ticks prefer to sit on plants at a height of 30 to 60 centimetres. They are on grasses, in the meadow or in bushes and in meadows. You can find them in the forest, but also in the park, on playgrounds or in your own garden.




When people or animals walk past these plants, they brush off the tick. The tick then crawls up on them and looks for a safe place.



What time of year are there ticks?


Ticks become active as soon as it is 5-7 degrees Celsius or warmer for several days in a row.


Due to climate change, the average temperature continues to rise.

This means: we can encounter ticks almost all year round - even in winter!



How do I know if I have a tick?


A tick needs a lot more blood than a mosquito. That's why it attaches itself to an animal or a person for up to 15 days and drinks blood.


But often you don't even notice it.


Ticks look for a place on their victim where they are protected: for example in humans between the hair, in the armpits or in the genital area.

Blood makes the tick grow. A tick that has drunk a lot of blood can weigh up to 200 times as much than a hungry one.


If you look for it, you will also find the tick: first it is like a small ball and then it gets really big. If you look carefully at the tick, you will also discover the legs.

It is important to know that the tick can look very different, depending on the stage of development it is in.



How can I remove a tick?


It doesn't matter whether it's on humans or pets: If you discover a tick, you should pull it out of the skin immediately.


I always use a special tick-card or tick-tweezers that you can get in the pharmacy. It's best to get advice there.


Take care to pull out the whole tick with its sting!



In the past it was also recommended to drip oil or glue on the tick - this is no longer recommended!



What diseases are transmitted by ticks?


Ticks can transmit various dangerous pathogens.


These includes

  • Borrelia (bacteria that can cause Lyme disease) and

  • the viruses of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE for short). TBE is a disease of the meninges and central nervous system. It cannot be cured with medication. In severe cases it can even be fatal.

The FSME virus can spread to the wound immediately after the sting.


In the case of Borrelia, it is assumed that they are only transmitted after several hours.

Therefore, ticks should be removed as soon as possible.



How does tick vaccination help?


The tick vaccination protects against TBE.

Children can be vaccinated against TBE from the age of one.

There is still no human vaccine against Lyme disease.


It is best to talk to your doctor about this topic!



First signs of a tick-borne disease


A tick bite itself looks no different from a mosquito bite. You often don't even notice the it, because it's painless and doesn't always itch.

The most well-known symptom of an infection is a ring-shaped reddening of the skin around the puncture site.

It is the typical sign of a Borrelia infection.


If you notice an insect bite, you should keep a close eye on it and maybe mark it to see changes such as swelling or redness.


However, this symptom does not indicate a TBE infection.


Instead, at the beginning there are symptoms such as tiredness, fever, headaches, difficulty concentrating and body aches.


How can I protect myself from ticks?


Of course, it's best if you don't get any tick bites at all.


Long trousers and sturdy shoes are good protection to prevent ticks from crawling up your body.

Mud pants and rubber boots are ideal for children!


A tick spray can also help. It works (and smells) just like bug spray.






Important: after every stay in nature, you should thoroughly check your body for ticks.

 




Luckily, my daughter's Lyme disease was treated with strong antibiotics. The paralysis subsided after a few days and then disappeared completely.


I hope that these information will make you aware of the dangers of ticks in Germany - espeially if you don't have similar problems in your home country.


Of course we continue to go into nature with our family.

But for me as a mother it is important: the vaccination protects against TBE and after a fun afternoon in the woods or on the meadow we thoroughly look for ticks.


Do you have further questions?

If in doubt, always ask a doctor or pharmacist!

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