It’s that time of year again — warm weather, tons of outdoor activities in the sun and…ticks! Yes, that’s right, it is tick season here in Europe. Tick season normally lasts from March to October depending upon the temperature. The peak of tick season is from June thru July.
Tickborne diseases are some of the most common vector-borne diseases transmitted to humans each year in Europe. The most significant pathogens in our region are Borrelia spp., which is the causative agent of Lyme disease, and Tickborne encephalitis virus, which is the second important pathogen transmitted by ticks in this geographical region. One key note about Lyme disease in Europe is that 45 percent of people infected never develop the hall mark bull’s-eye rash (erythema migrans). Infected ticks have to attach and remain on that individual for 24 to 48 hours in order to transmit most diseases.
To help prevent tick bites, it is best to recognize tick habitats and avoid them when possible. Ticks need layered shade and moist air, so they prefer to stay along the forest edge in shady, tall grassy or bushy areas. If you manage to find yourself or any of your family members or pets in these types of areas, here are a few simple tips for tick bite prevention:
• Wear protective clothing (long sleeves and pants treated with permethrin, if possible)
• Use insect repellents containing DEET on exposed skin
• Perform routine tick checks
• Leave your shoes outside and wash clothes as soon as possible. Ticks may survive on clothes in the washing machine, but a hot cycle in the dryer will kill ticks.
If you do happen to locate a feeding tick, the prompt and proper removal is the key to reducing the risk of disease transmission. Ticks should be removed using tweezers, pulling back slowly and steadily with firm force in the reverse direction in which the mouth parts are inserted, as you would do for a splinter. Don’t burn it. Use soap, gasoline, Vaseline or any other method mentioned on social media. Slow, gentle movement is the key.
Once the tick is removed, cleanse the bite with alcohol and apply antibiotic ointment. Most tick bites may cause skin irritation at the feeding site, but this doesn’t indicate disease transmission. Ticks that have been removed from people should be saved for identification and testing. Military personnel and DOD civilians should place the tick in a ziplock bag, and take it to the local military medical treatment facility (veterinary treatment facility for pets). The facility will forward the tick to the U.S. Army Public Health Command Region-Europe (PHCR-Europe) Entomological Science Division for identification. If the ticks are identified as possible disease carriers, they will be sent to the PHCR-Europe Laboratory Sciences Division for testing. All results from identification through PCR testing (if warranted) are sent back to the clinics that submitted them.