When the weather lures you outside, there are definitely one or two animals you don’t want to meet – the tick is one of them. Unfortunately, this cannot always be avoided entirely. Eight tips on how to protect yourself on a trip to the countryside and what to do if the tick has bitten you.
Hiking through nature in summer without thinking about ticks – that would be nice. Unfortunately, encounters with the animals cannot be avoided in many places during the warmer months. Ticks transmit diseases such as Lyme disease or tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). What is the best way to protect yourself from the animals – and what to do after a sting? Two experts give tips.
Tip 1: Know where to meet ticks
“Our native ticks like to stay in tall grass, bushes, loose leaves and in forests that are not too dry,” says family doctor and emergency doctor Michaela Geiger from Neckarsulm. Most of the time you brush them off in passing. “In this respect, the protective rules are: wear sturdy shoes, put long trousers in your socks and thoroughly check your whole body after spending time in nature.”
Children should also wear a hat. Because: Ticks can climb up to a certain height in the bushes. It is also advisable to find out whether you are traveling in a TBE risk area. According to the Robert Koch Institute, there are currently 175 districts, most of them in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg.
Tip 2: Don’t rely on insect sprays, but combine measures
Mosquito or tick sprays are only useful to a limited extent, says tropical medicine specialist Kristina Huber from the LMU Klinikum in Munich. “They are good against mosquitoes – but it has not been proven that they are just as effective against ticks.” A combination of different measures ensures the best possible protection: a vaccination against TBE, long clothing, a tick spray with the active ingredient permethrin – sprayed on the skin and fabric.
Just as important as the preparation is the follow-up – i.e. the thorough examination of the body. Important: “Since you can’t see the back and the back of your knees so well, it helps to support each other when searching,” says emergency doctor Geiger. You should also not forget the body folds in the genital area as well as the areas behind the ears and under the armpits.
Tip 3: Choose light-colored clothing – and benefit twice over
“A tick, which is usually dark, is easier to spot on light-colored clothing,” says family doctor Geiger. By the way, if you dress in bright colors in nature, you can also keep mosquitoes that are active during the day at bay. According to Huber, a specialist in tropical medicine, they tend to respond to dark colors.
Tip 4: Tick bite? Don’t panic and rush
What if a tick bite has happened? The advice of emergency physician Michaela Geiger: keep calm. “Usually you have enough time to remove the tick.” In the case of Lyme disease, the tick has to suck on the skin for a certain amount of time before it releases Borrelia to the human organism. “If you remove the tick in less than twelve hours, you usually have nothing to worry about,” says Geiger.
TBE is a little different. The disease is transmitted much faster by a tick bite. But it is also much rarer: According to the RKI, only 0.1 to 5 percent of ticks in risk areas carry TBE viruses.
As a rule, however, there is time to go to the pharmacy to buy tools to remove the tick. Advantage of tick hooks, cards or pliers: Thanks to them, the tick can be removed slowly and in a controlled manner. It is best to disinfect the wound afterwards.
Tip 5: Better not to use oil or butter
Sometimes you don’t have a special tool at hand – and also no pharmacy nearby. It is better to stay away from home remedies. Kristina Huber gives an example: “It used to be said that you should rub oil or butter on the tick so that it couldn’t breathe anymore and had to let go.”
According to the infectiologist, this is true, but there is a risk that the tick – if it brings TBE viruses or Borrelia with it – will spit out the pathogens through the friction. “Therefore, this method is strongly discouraged,” says Huber.
Tip 6: Don’t squeeze
In an emergency, the tick can also be removed with your fingers. “It’s important not to squeeze or twist the tick, otherwise it’s more likely to release pathogens into the human body,” says Geiger, who is also chairwoman of the German Central Association of Homeopathic Doctors (DZVhÄ).
“Many are afraid that they have removed the body of the tick, but its head or stinging device is still in the skin,” says the doctor. The same applies here: no reason to panic. Because the transmission of Borrelia via the head alone does not work – these are in the gut of the tick. If you are not sure that you have removed the entire tick, you can consult your family doctor to be on the safe side.
Tip 7: Observe the spot of the tick bite
“If you have been bitten by a tick, it is fundamentally important to observe the area for four to six weeks,” says Michaela Geiger. You can note the date of the sting and mark the puncture site. In this way, the local movement of the inflammation can be easily tracked. “Sometimes you get stung and the skin turns a little red at the site, which is completely normal,” says Geiger. The redness often disappears after a few days without an infection having occurred.
By the way: Lyme disease and TBE symptoms can be easily distinguished from each other. In the case of Lyme disease, the so-called reddening occurs as the first sign. “The puncture point in the middle is fading away. A widening red halo appears around it,” describes Geiger. The edge-accentuated circle can increase up to a diameter of 10 to 20 centimeters. Lyme disease can be treated well with antibiotics.
According to Huber, a TBE infection usually begins with non-specific symptoms such as headaches and body aches or fever. There is often a symptom-free interval of almost a week before meningitis, brain or nerve inflammation sets in.
Tip 8: Don’t worry about the Hyalomma tick
Many may have already read about her – the Hyalomma tick. But is it really on the rise and also a danger in Germany? The Hyalomma tick is mainly found in tropical countries. In Europe it is mainly reported in southern locations in particularly hot summers. “They migrate by attaching themselves to migratory birds – that’s how they get to Europe,” says tropical medicine specialist Huber.
The Hyalomma tick is significantly larger than native ticks and has striped legs. “They are extremely rare in Germany,” says Huber. So there is no need to worry. In this country it is still very likely to be bitten by one of “our” ticks, says Huber.