Ticks as carriers of disease: Observe protection when staying outdoors
Ticks are feared as potential transmitters of infectious diseases, whereby especially Lyme disease and the so-called early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE) can be held responsible for the reputation of ticks as dangerous disease transmitters. For example, the growing spread of TBE risk areas in Germany has been a topic of discussion in recent years, and in particular people who spend a lot of time outdoors in the regions at risk have been warned of health risks.
The little bloodsuckers lurk on meadows, on the side of the path and in the undergrowth until a suitable host comes by to whom they can attach themselves. The ticks then preferentially look for protected skin folds on the host's body and begin to feast on the blood of the wearer. The tick bite is painless for those affected and so the animals are often not noticed by humans at first. During the sucking of blood, the tick's body swells many times over, which makes it much easier to discover the parasites after a while. If the ticks have taken in enough blood or food, loosen their bite and fall off again on their own. The process would be completely harmless to humans if no pathogens were transmitted into the wound during the process of sucking blood. However, in recent years more and more ticks have been shown to be carriers of borrelia (triggers of borreliosis) and TBE viruses, which has resulted in a corresponding increase in the risk of disease after a tick bite.
Protection against ticks by appropriate clothing Although most tick bites are still harmless today, the concern about a disease of Lyme disease or TBE is understandable and if unusual symptoms of a tick bite are seen, a doctor should be consulted urgently. First of all, when you are outdoors, you must ensure that you are adequately protected against ticks in order to minimize the risk of a bite from the outset. When staying on meadows or in the undergrowth, special attention should be paid to clothing covering the body. Long pants (ideally with tight cuffs or tucked into your socks), sturdy closed shoes and long-sleeved shirts already offer relatively good protection here. Light-colored clothing is also recommended, since the tiny bloodsuckers on it can be discovered more easily. In addition, special insect or tick protection agents can be purchased in the pharmacy. These are applied to the skin and clothing to keep the ticks away, but also offer limited protection.
Remove adhering ticks with a suitable tool. Despite all safety measures, if you stay outdoors, there is no 100% protection against a tick bite, the body should be checked thoroughly for any ticks that may be adhering to it after it returns. If a tick is discovered, it should be removed as soon as possible, but squeezing or twisting of the animal should be avoided as far as possible, otherwise the animals can empty their stomach contents together with the pathogens they contain into the wound or the animal's head can tear off and get stuck in the wound. Narrow tweezers, tick tongs or so-called tick cards are well suited for removing the animals. If the adhering tick has been successfully removed, disinfection of the wound is then recommended. If parts of the animal get stuck in the wound, there is a risk of inflammation, which in the worst case can lead to blood poisoning, which is why medical treatment is urgently recommended in such cases.
Lyme disease after a tick bite If pathogens were transmitted during the tick bite, this often only shows up a few days to weeks later. After a tick bite, those affected should carefully observe any health peculiarities and, in case of doubt, immediately seek medical help. For example, if there is an infection with Borrelia, a circular reddish rash often shows up around the point of the tick bite, which, if not treated, can appear as a so-called blush on various parts of the body. Sometimes, however, Lyme disease also runs without the skin symptoms and manifests itself in rather unspecific flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, joint pain and chronic fatigue. If antibiotic therapy is started early, Lyme disease can be successfully treated in most cases, but the disease, accompanied by rather unremarkable symptoms, often goes into a chronic stage before medical help is called for, which makes treatment significantly more difficult.
TBE cannot be treated and with long-term consequences TBE is transmitted by ticks, especially in southern Germany. The map of the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) on the TBE risk areas in Germany shows a high transmission risk in Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and southern Thuringia. Some regions in Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saarland are also affected. Like Lyme disease, a TBE infection often initially shows unspecific flu-like symptoms, but can develop into severe meningitis later on. Those affected are at risk of massive health impairments, which can range from breathing problems to speech and consciousness disorders to paralysis or even death. In contrast to Lyme disease, the treatment options for the viral disease TBE are extremely limited. An efficient healing method is not known even with early diagnosis. Only therapeutic support for the self-healing powers of the organism can be considered here. After surviving the disease, many sufferers experience irreversible neurological deficiency symptoms throughout their lives. The only positive thing: once you have experienced the infection, you are immune for life. There is also the possibility of immunization by means of TBE vaccination for particularly vulnerable people. (fp)
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