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Tick Encephalitis and Travel

September 25th, 2016

Tick Encephalitis a.k.a. Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a serious brain infection. It is caught from a simple tick bite in Europe.  In Australia, our ticks cause paralysis but in Europe, they cause this dreadful brain infection that can even sometimes be fatal, or leave sufferers with brain damage. Happily, two-thirds of sufferers get no symptoms. The infection is more dangerous as people get older, and especially over 50 years of age.

How common is Tick encephalitis?

Tick encephalitis is the most common insect-transmitted viral infection in Europe and central and eastern Asia.

It is estimated that every year, it is estimated that over 10,000 persons go to hospital with tick encephalitis. We have no reliable figures of the scope of the problem in travellers, but it is not commonly reported in the ‘usual’ Europe travellers.

The TBE virus is a close relative of  the viruses that cause yellow fever, dengue fever, and Japanese encephalitis  In most instances,  humans catch this disease from the bite of an infected tick; however, in some TBE affected  areas, persons can  catch it from drinking raw milk or eating milk products from infected goats, sheep, or cattle.

WHERE does Tick encephalitis commonly occur?

TBE occurs in Europe. The most commonly affected countries are southern Germany, Switzerland, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, the Baltic countries, Poland, parts of Scandinavia, and European Russia. Here is a link to a map of risky areas.

Activities like camping, bicycling, fishing, collecting mushrooms, orienteering or forest work, increase the risk of catching this disease. The virus has been found at altitudes up to and above 1,500 m.

The risk is negligible for people who remain in urban or unforested areas and who do not consume unpasteurized dairy products.

Insect repellent and protective clothing are recommended to decrease exposure to ticks.

A good and safe vaccine is available in Europe and has been widely used for many years to protect the local populations. In Australia, the vaccine is not available on a general script, but is available through specialised travel medicine clinics, for persons who will be going to risk areas, particularly in the summer when ticks are active, and spending time in forests.

At Dr Deb’s, in Adelaide Street, we have the vaccine on hand for at-risk travellers. Many travellers are leaving at short notice, so there is a rapid course of vaccine if their trip is less than 6 months duration.


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