Anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors will probably come across ticks sooner or later. News reports on ticks can paint an alarming picture, but they aren't actually as dangerous as many people think. Although ticks can carry and spread disease, tick bites don't usually cause health problems. In Germany, ticks are active between about March and November.
If you are bitten by a tick, any problems are usually only temporary and minor. Tick bites rarely have serious or lasting effects. And there are several things you can do to prevent tick bites and possible complications. This can make it easier to deal with these tiny creatures.
Two main diseases can be transmitted by ticks in Germany: Lyme disease (also called Lyme borreliosis) and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), which can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). Infection is only possible if the tick that bites you is infected, and also manages to transmit the viruses or bacteria.
Lyme disease is much more common than TBE. Generally speaking, TBE is rare, and doesn't occur at all in many regions. Neither of these two diseases can be spread from one human to another. In other words: if someone is infected, they are not contagious to others.
Your risk of a tick bite will mainly depend on where you spend your time and what you do outdoors. Wearing closed shoes on hikes through tall grass or shrubs can help keep ticks out. Clothes that cover as much of your body as possible – like full-length trousers and long-sleeved shirts – make it harder for ticks to attach. It is easier to see them on light-colored clothing. Ticks can be found both out in the wild and in gardens or parks.
Ticks may wander around your body for a few hours before biting. So you can prevent bites and substantially lower your risk of Lyme disease or TBE by checking your body for ticks right after spending time in a forest or meadow, and removing any you find. Children often won't remember to look for ticks, so they might need a reminder or some help. It also makes sense for adults to have someone help, especially to check hard-to-see places.
According to the German Robert Koch Institute, tick repellent sprays only offer temporary protection from ticks. The effect wears off after two to four hours, so you will need to re-apply the spray on longer walks.
There is a vaccine for TBE. The TBE vaccine may be a good idea if you spend a lot of time outdoors in high-risk areas.
Last but not least, it's important to look out for signs of infection if you have been bitten, and to seek medical attention if any symptoms develop.
When people are ill or need medical advice, they usually go to see their family doctor first. Read about how to find the right doctor, how to prepare for the appointment and what to remember.
Bayrisches Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit (LGL). Erkrankungen durch Zeckenstiche: FSME. February 14, 2019.
Deutsche Dermatologische Gesellschaft (DDG). Kutane Lyme Borreliose (S2k-Leitlinie). AWMF-Registernr.: 013-044. March 2016.
Richardson M, Khouja C, Sutcliffe K. Interventions to prevent Lyme disease in humans: A systematic review. Prev Med Rep 2019; 13: 16-22.
Robert-Koch-Institut (RKI). RKI-Ratgeber: Lyme-Borreliose. March 01, 2013.
Robert Koch-Institut (RKI). FSME: Antworten auf häufig gestellte Fragen zu Zecken, Zeckenstich, Infektion. February 02, 2019.
Robert Koch-Institut (RKI). RKI-Ratgeber: Frühsommer-Meningoenzephalitis (FSME). August 18, 2015.
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