Can we eat ticks?

When the tick stings

Tips to protect against Lyme disease and early summer meningoencephalitis

Ticks wait for involuntary blood donors in the woods and meadows. Whether man or mouse does not matter, the main thing is that the coveted life juice circulates. Read more about ticks, the dangers of a tick bite and how to deal with them.

  • Tick ​​(common wood tick) on a blade of grass - Photo: Helge May

  • Tick ​​(common wood tick) - Photo: Frank Derer

Occurrence and way of life of ticks | Tick ​​borreliosis | Tick ​​encephalitis (TBE) | Protection against tick bites | Tick ​​discovered - what to do?

Tapping is not always harmless for the host, as a tick bite can change hands as well as blood and pathogens. This problem particularly affects people who spend a lot of time in the great outdoors. Who does not know as Souvenirs from the summer walk a slightly itchy part of the body where a tick can be found on closer inspection? It is not always just an annoying bloodsucker: some of the animals leave behind pathogenic bacteria and viruses after their blood meal. The tick is named because of its widespread distribution Common wooden trestle (Ixodes ricinus) most important carrier of disease in Central Europe. There is a risk of infection above all for people who are regularly outdoors, professionally or privately, such as farmers and forest workers, road builders, athletes, biologists and, last but not least, nature observers and conservationists.

Occurrence and way of life of ticks

In Germany there are 19 types of ticks that attack mammals, birds, reptiles, domestic animals and humans. Larvae, nymphs and "adults" of the common wood tick parasitize many vertebrates. As a shield tick, they have a chitin shield that completely covers the back of the males and only heart-shaped in the females. The males are up to 2.5 millimeters in size, the females measure 3.5 and sucked up to 12 millimeters.

Looked closely: Tick on March violet - Photo: Helge May

In Germany you have to expect ticks everywhere, especially the common wood tick can be found from the coast to the mountains. Ideal living spaces are dense, low herb and shrub zones that offer a humid microclimate, sun and wind protection and waiting places for the ticks. Forests, forest edges, meadows and floodplains best meet these requirements. Ticks need high humidity in order not to dry out and temperatures above ten degrees Celsius in order to be active. Therefore, they spend the winter in a kind of rigidity and begin to crawl on warm spring and summer days. They develop their main activities at the beginning of June and mid-September, during the day mainly in the morning and early evening. Mild winters and humid summers promote tick density. Some scientists see the increased incidence of ticks in the last decade as a result of global climate change.

Ticks lurk on plants up to one and a half meters high for a passing mammal. Is this on Vibrations, body heat, breath and the smell of sweat recognized, the tick can be stripped off. Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not rush down from trees on their host animals. Then a search for a suitable place, often lasting hours, begins, where the tick can sting painlessly (ticks have a stinging device, they cannot bite!). Depending on the stage of development (larva, nymph, tick), blood is sucked for three to seven days. Ticks seek out the ground to molt, lay their eggs and hibernate. Our ticks are invariably three-host, so each stage has to suck blood once. And in doing so, they can both ingest and pass on pathogens. Experts warn that the two major tick-borne diseases have been occurring in increasing numbers in recent years.

The tick borreliosis

With an estimated 60,000 to 100,000 illnesses per year in Germany (Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety), Lyme disease is the most common tick-borne disease. The pathogen is the bacterium that was only discovered in 1982 Borrelia burgdorferi. Mothers from Lyme, Connecticut, USA, contributed to the discovery - hence, too "Lyme Disease" - whose children often suffered from joint inflammation. Borreliosis can make itself felt with a variety of signs, go through different stages and unrecognized take a chronic course up to incapacity and permanent damage.

Soaked tick - Photo: NABU / Michaela Steininger

Borrelia bacteria occur in Europe and North America, depending on the region in 15 percent or more of ticks. The helical bacteria live in the intestines and the salivary glands of the ticks and can be passed on via the saliva when bitten. However, not every bite from an infected tick leads to infection of the tick. In some regions the rate is a quarter, so every fourth bite of a tick infected with Borrelia leads to an infection.

In the early stages, borreliosis often manifests itself in addition to flu-like symptoms by a Redness at the puncture site: One to three weeks after the sometimes unnoticed tick bite, around 60 percent of those affected develop a round reddening of the skin that is at least the size of a palm, which can spread over days and weeks. This symptom deserves special attention as an early warning, because the disappearance of the reddening does not mean a cure! Without treatment, inflammation of the nervous system and other organs occurs in the second stage after weeks to months. Numbness, painful inflammation of the nerves and paralysis of the face, arms and legs occurs. With early treatment, the symptoms usually go away completely.

In the late stage, months can still be found recurrent joint inflammation especially the knee and ankle joints, which can usually be treated successfully. Postponed chronic inflammation of the skin, meninges and meninges can cause permanent damage despite therapy. Since there is no vaccination available, Lyme disease must be recognized by its symptoms - the earlier, the better the chances of recovery. Suspicious signs should lead to the doctor, because only the early, targeted and consistent Treatment with antibiotics can prevent chronic courses. Blood tests can be used to determine whether late symptoms are the result of a tick bite that has occurred a long time ago. Borreliosis that has been through once does not leave any lasting immunity, so you can get sick again afterwards. A vaccination against Borrelia is currently available for dogs in Central Europe for various reasons, but not for humans.

Tick ​​encephalitis (TBE)

A brain and Meningitis after tick bites occurs - as the name early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE) suggests - seasonally from April to July, rarely again in September and October. With 583 cases in 2018, the disease is rare in our country, but the number of cases is increasing. According to the Robert Koch Institute, 47 percent of the cases in 2018 came from Baden-Württemberg and 40 percent from Bavaria. The pathogen is a virus that can carry very different numbers of ticks depending on the location.

Two-thirds of the bites of infected ticks have no consequences, and one-third of them have one after a week "Summer flu" on. According to this, some of the patients suffer from inflammation of the brain, meninges and nerves, which do not always heal without consequences, cause 30 to 40 percent permanent damage to the nervous system and in a few percent of cases lead to wheelchair use (three percent) or even death (one to two percent ) to lead.

Pair of sheep ticks - Photo: Helge May

There is no causal treatment for tick encephalitis. But the body forms antibodies against the viruses, so that preventive vaccinations can be made. Due to the cases of illness observed in a region so far, so-called Risk and high risk areas defined for TBE. In addition to the “classic” TBE areas in southern Germany and Eastern Europe, the risk areas have expanded continuously in recent years and now include many areas in central and northern Germany as well. Vaccination protection according to the official vaccination recommendations is recommended to all people who are regularly in such areas in the wild for professional or private reasons. Currently, the TBE risk areas in Germany mainly include Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg, southern Hesse, south-eastern Thuringia and parts of Saxony. Doctors, pharmacists or pharmaceutical manufacturers provide information about the TBE risk for a certain region (place of residence, holiday destination, etc.).

The TBE vaccination If you have three injections into the upper arm muscles within a year, you are protected against TBE for at least three years. One manufacturer already has short-term protection for one year after two partial vaccinations within three weeks. Whether refresher courses are sufficient later than the currently recommended three years is currently the subject of intense scientific discussion. If in doubt, seek advice from your doctor or travel medic. Attention: The TBE vaccination does not provide any protection against borreliosis!

Protection against tick bites

To avoid health problems, one should protect oneself from ticks. There are a number of recommendations for this: Tick biotopes with grass, ferns and bushes should be avoided in summer, picnics or siestas should not be held at the edges of the forest and in meadows. The clothing must close tightly, so long sleeves and trouser legs tucked into socks or boots - advice that is not easy to follow in the summer heat, but is effective.

The most important measure during and after a stay in the tick biotope is this Search clothing and entire body on ticks. Particular attention should be paid to the very infectious nymphs, which are only one millimeter in size. Adults should watch out for ticks on their legs, groin and pubic hair, as adults usually brush off ticks from the low vegetation while walking. Ticks can be found all over the body in children, and special attention should be paid to the scalp around the hairline. Light-colored clothing helps to spot ticks more easily, smooth fabrics offer the animals less support. Dresses can be treated with reppelentia or pyrethroids. Bare skin that cannot be covered can also be treated with repellants, but their effectiveness is limited.

Tick ​​discovered - what to do?

Ticks need to be removed soon because the risk of infection increases with the duration of suction. TBE viruses are transmitted immediately after the bite, Borrelia with a delay of around 12 to 24 hours. Under no circumstances should attempts to suffocate be attempted with oil, glue, wax, cream or the like: With this procedure, the animal releases even more infectious saliva!

The removal of the tick should only be done with one Tick ​​tweezers be performed. To do this, the animal is grasped just above the puncture site without squeezing it and then pulled out to the side. Please follow the instructions for the pliers. The doctor may have to remove the tick's head that has remained in the skin, but there is no longer any risk of infection.

Tick ​​- Photo: Frank Derer

Some tick tweezers can be problematic because they can squeeze the ticks. Recently there is another effective tool for tick removal: the Save card. This is a check card with two punched rails with which all stages of the tick can be easily grasped and removed. Safecards are available in pharmacies and pet shops. Removed ticks can be examined for pathogens. To do this, the tick is placed in a tube with a few blades of grass and sent in by the doctor (clarify costs beforehand). If the animal was infected with Borrelia, early treatment is possible.

Beware of animal contact: Dogs, cats, and other pets carry different types of ticks, so scanning for ticks that have been imported into your home is recommended. When checking nests and nesting boxes or ringing birds, one often encounters non-infectious leather ticks. But also in birds, small mammals (hedgehogs, sleeping mice, mice, weasels), farm animals, wild animals and lizards the disease-transmitting house billy buck can be expected.

Stefan Bosch

Further tips and rules of conduct that contribute to enjoying nature without a care in the world can be found in the advisor "Despite ticks, wasps, fox tapeworms ...". The brochure is available for three euros plus shipping costs or in a package with a tick card for five euros plus shipping costs in the NABU Baden-Württemberg online shop.

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