Deadly tick diseases on the rise in Germany
With new risk areas, high infection rates and the rise of a “super” species, 2018 was a good year for ticks in Germany. Experts are now warning that 2019 could be another tick bonanza, as warmer temperatures allow the disease-carrying little critters to travel further north.
Tick-borne diseases increasing in Germany
Fever, sluggishness, joint pain … These are all symptoms of Germany’s two most common tick-borne diseases: Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). While lyme disease is a bacterial infection usually disclosed by rashes, headaches and muscle pain, TBE is a viral infection that causes flu-like symptoms. Long-term, both diseases can develop into chronic conditions like arthritis and meningitis - and can even be fatal.
And, according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), incidences of both diseases are on the rise in Germany. In the first three months of this year alone, 497 cases of Lyme disease were reported, along with 10 cases of TBE. Last year, more than 13.349 people were infected with Lyme disease, and a total of 584 contracted TBE: “The most reported TBE cases ever”, according to RKI spokeswoman Susanne Glasmacher.
Even more worryingly, in 2018 the first so-called “super tick” was discovered in Germany. The hyalomma tick is larger than the species of tick native to Germany and can transmit diseases such as the Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever virus, which is fatal in 30 percent of cases.
Warm temperatures boost tick activity
While this increase in tick infections may be attributable to the extreme summer we had in 2018, some experts are concerned that increasing temperatures may be extending the tick season. Dr Gerhard Dobler from the National Consiliary Laboratory in Munich warns that mild temperatures in the winter and warm springs favour the wide occurrence of ticks, who are active in temperatures above eight degrees.
Moreover, while the risk areas in Germany have historically been confined to the southern federal states, Thuringia and Saxony, this year for the first time the RKI has named a district in northern Germany as a tick risk area: Emsland in Lower Saxony.
How to protect yourself from ticks in Germany
Not all areas in Germany are affected by tick-borne diseases: to see where you’re most at risk, you can check out this handy interactive map. To protect yourself from ticks and tick-related diseases, try to keep yourself covered when walking through grassy areas. If you have been out and about in nature, make sure to check yourself thoroughly for ticks afterwards.
If you have been bitten, remove the entire critter as soon as possible and watch out for flu-like symptoms, joint pain and rashes. The risk of becoming infected from a tick bite is low, but if notice any symptoms or are otherwise concerned, consult with your doctor.