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TBE from ticks: Doubling of meningitis in 2011
The tick season is in full swing. A tick bite can transmit dangerous infectious diseases in which stung patients can get into life-threatening situations. According to the Robert Koch Institute, the number of meningitis increased again last year. A map of Germany published by the institute shows in which areas special caution is required. A study is now to clarify why the south of the republic in particular is particularly affected. Nevertheless: nobody should panic, not every tick transmits serious illnesses. Those who protect themselves well in advance are on the safe side.
Meningitis caused by ticks doubled According to evaluations by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) in Berlin, the number of meningitis caused by ticks has risen in Germany. In 2011, a total of 423 patient cases were reported to the institute, which suffered from early summer meningoencephalitis (TBE) due to a tick bite. "This corresponded to a significant increase compared to the previous year (260 FSME diseases) by 63 percent", as the RKI reports in a statement. "With the exception of the years 2005 and 2006, in which there was also a strong increase with 432 and 546 cases, the number of TBE patient cases transmitted annually was between 2002 and 2010 at a relatively stable level with a range of 239 to 313" , said a spokesman. The viral infectious disease causes symptoms that resemble seasonal flu, which is why in some cases the disease is recognized late. As a result, the patient suffers from fever, headache, body aches and occasionally also from meningoencephalitis, which causes inflammation in the brain and meninges. However, many people do not feel any signs and do not notice the illness.
Tick Atlas shows herds of danger In the course of the investigations, the RKI published a tick atlas on which doctors and other interested parties can recognize the potential “tick danger”. Across Germany, around 140 cities and regions are affected. The city districts of Ulm (Baden-Württemberg), the district of Kempten (Bavaria) and the Saar-Pfalz district have been added to the number of recent years. For the first time, there is also a warning for a region in Saarland. It remains striking that the south of Germany in particular is affected by a relative risk of ticks. According to the RKI, there are a particularly large number of ticks in meadows, parks and forests in the federal states of Bavaria, southern Hesse, Baden-Württemberg and Thuringia. However, this does not mean that there are no ticks in the other federal states. However: "Federal states in which no TBE diseases have been acquired so far: Berlin, Bremen, Hamburg."
It remains unclear why the incidence rate more than doubled last year. However, it can be seen from the data that the number of infections rises every now and then, as a spokeswoman for the RKI emphasized. The reasons for this are very different and have not yet been sufficiently researched. However, the analyzes show that the infections caused by ticks do not spread spatially in Germany. But the number of TBE diseases in the risk areas has increased. The spokeswoman pointed out that a total of 546 infections were reported to the RKI in 2006. The following year, the infection rate dropped back to 239.
Prevention The Best Cure For Infections There are many ways to protect yourself from tick bites. Conventional medicine recommends getting vaccinations at least in the high-risk areas. This also applies to people who plan to spend a vacation in the region. The vaccination is given in three separate doses. Vaccination protection must then be renewed every three to five years. In the endangered areas, the statutory health insurance companies cover the costs for preventive treatment. In naturopathy, therapists tend to use lotions containing oils from anise, lavender, tea tree, rosemary or citronella, as the naturopath Jochen Stein reports. These substances would irritate and drive away the bloodsuckers. The disadvantage of the lotions is that they have to be applied again and again every hour so that the effect is retained. For prevention, it is also advisable not to walk barefoot in meadows and to wear closed clothing, if possible, so that ticks cannot find free skin.
The RKI emphasizes that ticks are also causing trouble in regions that are not explicitly considered to be at risk. "Infections cannot be ruled out there either," says the institute. Rather, it is likely that the virus is also latent in the western, northern and eastern countries, where it was still common 20 to 30 years ago.
Climate change could be the cause Some researchers suspect that the possible increase is related to climate change. The Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (FLI) is currently investigating this question. The scientists are studying how insects develop in different climates. On behalf of the Federal Environment Agency, the experts have been analyzing tick habitats on meadows and forest locations in a total of seven federal states since 2008. To determine the data, the soil and air temperatures are measured and in which populations the ticks are present in which areas. The project is a long-term study because it takes several years to count the insects. Only after a certain period of time can certain information about distribution and occurrence be made.
Not every tick is a carrier animal Many people assume that every tick carries a virus. But that was wrong, as Stein explained. "Only every hundredth tick transmits Lyme disease". The statement is also supported by the Foundation for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care (IQWIG). Basically, there is a possibility that a tick transmits an illness, but most bites are "rather harmless except for one wound site", according to the IQWIG. The picture looks similar for the TBE virus. According to the RKI, the viruses do not occur everywhere in the risk areas with the same frequency. The so-called natural herds are very small and the spread is difficult to determine, since an extremely large number of ticks would have to be examined for this.
Christine Klaus, scientist at the FLI in Jena, on the other hand, hopes for a quicker understanding. The researchers are currently studying animals such as goats, cows and sheep in order to be able to isolate natural herds. The experts found antibodies to the viruses in some blood samples. In Bavaria, for example, the number of antibodies in herds of horses was very high. In this way, conclusions could be drawn about “the presence of TBE viruses in their environment”, says Klaus.
Lyme disease from tick bites In addition to meningitis, ticks can also cause Lyme disease. This applies not only to the risky regions mentioned, but to the whole of Germany. The health authorities report on 8,000 patients last year, with only seven federal states having set up a reporting obligation and the number of those affected should therefore be at least twice as high. In contrast to TBE, Lyme disease is a bacterial infectious disease. The germs can basically affect all organs in the body. Most of the patients suffer from nervous disorders combined with dizziness or joint problems. In addition to the ticks, the infection is also caused by mosquito bites or horse brakes. Some sufferers also experience rapid heartbeat and heartache, which is mostly caused by vascular inflammation.
Unlike the TBE, there is no possibility of vaccination against Lyme disease. Anyone who has been infected is treated with antibiotics. "The best protection is checking for ticks in the evening," says Stein. If the insect is recognized at an early stage, the risk of illness also decreases, as an outbreak is only possible with a sufficient number of secreted bacteria. "The groin, armpits, hollow of the knee and head are popular places for tick bites," says Stein. After a walk in the countryside, children and adults should take a shower and carefully feel the body. If a tick is found, it should be removed with a pair of tongs or tweezers. If you feel insecure, you can also consult a family doctor. (sb)
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