Top Tips on Ticks in Switzerland
In Spring and Summer, outdoor activities abound (see here for some ideas). But after that flower-picking walk through a meadow or hike up the Tobel, it’s important to remember that warmer temps bring ticks. Hikers, runners, dog-walkers and anyone who spends time in woodsy areas should watch for tick bites, which can cause tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) and Lyme disease.
In Switzerland, tick vaccinations are highly recommended and can be started at any time. But the vaccination only prevents tick-borne encephalitis; there is currently no vaccination for Lyme disease. Thus, even those with tick vaccinations need to take precautions before going out and then thoroughly check themselves, their children and pets for bites afterwards.
“Ticks are very clever,” says Dr. Angela Caddick, a UK-trained family doctor (GP) who runs a private practice in Zurich. “They jump off the deer they’re attached to and drop into the tall grass. Then they wait, and they can wait a long time, for someone to come along.”
Adult Deer Tick. Photo by Scott Bauer for Agricultural Research Service
Many times their presence and their bites fly under the radar because they release an anesthetic when they bite that numbs the skin.
“People commonly think that it will be like a mosquito, where they will see or feel something biting them, but quite often the ticks drops off and people never see them,” says Caddick.
If they do stay on board a body, Caddick says, ticks migrate to the warm moist areas, so it’s important to thoroughly check the head, groin and underarms. If a tick is found on the skin, Caddick recommends using a tick-remover, a credit card-like device that makes it easier to reach under the tick’s head and get it out without compressing the tick’s body. Tick removers can generally be found in chemists and Apothekes in Switzerland.
Once the tick is out, the area should be well cleaned and sprayed with antiseptic. Tick bites can infect people with TBE immediately, but if ticks carrying Lyme disease are removed within 36-48 hours, there is a possibility they will not infect their host. In fact, there is only a 1 in 200 chance that the tick carries a disease. But it’s still important to closely monitor the area because signs of infection can show up anywhere between three and 30 days later. (Seven days later is the average.)
The most common warning sign is a target or “bull’s eye” shaped rash, but rashes can take many other forms and can cover large areas. An infection can also cause flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, and muscle and joint aches.
Photo credit James Gathany
The above photo is a “classic” bull’s-eye rash. However a rash caused by Lyme doesn’t always look this way. Approximately 25% of people infected with Lyme disease do not have any rash.
Finding a tick should not be cause for alarm, but any suspicious rashes or symptoms that occur should be followed up immediately with a call and/or visit to the physician, says Caddick. Treatment for the early stages of Lyme disease infection is a relatively short two-week anti-biotic course, while treatment for later stages of the disease can be much more intensive and possibly ineffective.
You can’t avoid the ticks altogether, but please see Dr. Caddick’s precautionary list below to guard against bites and infection:
Things To Do:
- Vaccination is recommended (a course of 3 vaccinations gives up to 10 years immunity)
- When going into wooded areas, wear long pants tucked into socks.
- Use tick spray.
- Stay on paths and avoid walking through long grass.
- Make sure to check pets after hikes before letting them on beds.
Common and Misconceptions / Urban myths about ticks debunked by Dr. Caddick:
- Tick vaccinations protect against all tick-borne diseases. (In Switzerland, the tick vaccination only protects against tick-borne encephalitis.)
- Lyme disease can spread from person to person or from pet to person. (Lyme disease can only be contracted via tick bites.)
- You’re more likely to get bitten by a tick if you have the vaccination. (Not true, having the vaccination does not attract ticks.)
- Ticks look alike. (In fact, they vary in size, shape and color. Females tend to be much bigger than males.)
- Ticks should be burned off. (Using heat on the tick is not recommended as it could incite the tick to infect its host.)
With thanks to Dr. Angela Caddick:
Address: Praxis D29, Dufourstrasse 29, 8008 Zurich
Tel: 044 262 27 13
Article written and researched by Jennifer Lisle. Jennifer is a Zurich-based freelance journalist who has written for The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal and Elle, among many others.
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