What are ticks?
Ticks are small, blood-sucking parasites that feed on animal or human blood. They can be found in the natural environment, especially in forests and grassy landscapes, and also in gardens. The tick bite itself is painless and often overlooked, but it can cause dangerous diseases, such as Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE).
Do ticks bite or prick the skin?
In the past, ticks were thought to bite, but we now know that ticks prick the skin, suck on the blood with their proboscis and tear the skin with scissor-like tools in their mouth.
Correct way to remove ticks
- Ideally, use a special tick device or tweezers to enclose the head of the tick.
- Try not to squeeze the rest of the tick.
- Gently pull the tick upwards – don’t twist it!
- Disinfect the bite and observe it over the next few days (redness, swelling, symptoms of illness).
Good to know: if part of the tick remains in the skin, there’s no reason to panic. The rest of the tick should shed naturally. If the bite becomes infected, it’s advisable to have it checked by a doctor.
Kill the tick or dispose of it?
Either store the tick in a container so that it can be analysed in the event of infection or ideally kill it directly with high-proof alcohol or boiling water.
Protection from a vaccination
There’s a vaccination for TBE especially recommended for people who live or travel in risk areas. All cantons in Switzerland, except Geneva and Ticino, are classified as risk areas. The vaccination provides effective protection against TBE, but not against Lyme disease. This makes it all the more important to always protect yourself from tick bites when travelling in risk areas.
Effectiveness of the vaccination
3 doses of the vaccine are required. Thereafter, the FOPH recommends a booster every 10 years.
The 2 most common tick-borne diseases in Europe are Lyme disease and TBE. Other diseases include anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis and babesiosis.
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria transmitted by infected ticks. If the tick-borne disease isn't treated with antibiotics, later complications in the form of permanent disabilities can develop. There are many different symptoms of Lyme disease.
The most common include:
flu-like symptoms such as fever
rashes and burning pain around the bite
in later stages, facial paralysis, impaired vision and painful nerve inflammation (neuroborreliosis)
If Lyme disease isn't treated properly, there’s a risk that, months or even years later, Lyme arthritis can develop. This is when the pathogens (the Borrelia bacteria) infect the joints, causing joint inflammation and swelling. In rare cases, this can lead to chronic inflammation of the skin and heart problems.
TBE, on the other hand, is caused by the TBE virus and is an infectious disease. In rare cases, it can lead to serious diseases, such as meningitis and encephalitis. In most cases, however, an infection goes undetected and has no symptoms.
Symptome bei FSME durch Zecken
The symptoms of TBE occur in two phases of the disease and differ in the second phase, depending on how the disease develops. The specific difference is whether the patient develops meningitis alone or meningitis with encephalitis.
Symptoms of meningitis (1st phase of the disease):
- aching limbs or headache
Symptoms of meningitis with encephalitis (2nd phase of disease):
- high fever
- fatigue and distinct overall feeling of being unwell
- paralysis in arms, legs and face
- impaired concentration and memory
Protect yourself from tick bites
When out in forests and grassy landscapes, there are simple protection measures you can take.
Long and light-coloured clothing
To protect yourself from tick bites, wear long, light-coloured clothing that covers the skin. It’s also important that clothing is tight-fitting so that ticks can't slip inside.
Check your body
Another important precaution: check your body regularly, especially after spending time in high-risk areas. A good shower also helps, because as long as the tick isn’t attached, it can still be rinsed off.
Apply insect repellent
It’s also advisable to apply an insect repellent to your skin to ward off ticks. Use a product that contains DEET, icaridin or IR3535.
Do essential oils work against ticks?
It’s possible that essential oils such as eucalyptus and lavender may prevent tick bites, but the effect hasn’t been scientifically proven.
Most common types of ticks
There are many different types of ticks, but those most widespread in Europe are the common wood tick and the marsh tick.
Common wood tick
The common wood tick is mainly active between March and November and is found at altitudes up to about 2,000 metres above sea level. It’s often a carrier of the pathogens that cause Lyme disease or TBE.
The marsh tick poses less of a risk to humans. As the name suggests, it lives in wetlands such as moors and alluvial forests and bites mainly larger animals such as dogs and horses.
Do ticks sit on trees?
Ticks usually sit in grass, bushes and shrubs. They climb onto our skin on contact.