Estonia (and Estonian nature) is pretty safe and nice. No extreme tornadoes, thunderstorms, earthquakes nor floods, even the weather is mild. Extreme cold or hot temperature is not common here. But instead of natural diseases, there are still some serious risks. Ticks are small but can be really dangerous. So who are those small creatures, how to prevent problems and what to do if you got a tick.
Ticks are found everywhere, not only in the forest. They can also live in parks and even in cities. In Estonia, 4−5 species of ticks have been identified, the most common of these being Ixodes persulcatus tick, or the taiga tick, and Ixodes ricinus, known as the sheep tick or castor bean tick. The tick season usually starts in April and lasts till October.
The most dangerous among these is tickborne viral encephalitis. A wide-spread and well-known tickborne infection is the Lyme disease (borrealis). Ticks may also be vectors for some other, less-spread diseases, such as Ehrlichiosis, Tularemia and Babesiosis.
If You live in endemic area, like in Estonia, You should should take measures to prevent tick bites. You can use a repellent containing 20%-30% DEET or 20% Picaridin. Re-apply according to manufacturer’s directions. If You are going to the forest, wear breathable garments, including long-sleeved shirts and pants. Tuck pants into socks.
It is also recommended to avoid grasses and shurbs and follow the track but this isn’t always possible. People have found ticks even from city parks. Tick doesn’t move fastly and they aren’t like mosquitoes who fly quickly and bite you – just wear long sleeves and check your body and clothes later. Also don’t forget to examine your pet.
It is also possible to get vaccinated. Vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis consists of three injections. The first two are done one to three months apart, and the third one nine months to a year later. From there, the first reinjection needs to be done three years later and then in five year intervals. Before being vaccinated, you can discuss with an experienced doctor the arguments for and against being immunized and ask aluminium-free vaccines.
What to do?
The primary rule of removing a tick from your body is to be careful. Do not squeeze the tick, because you may secrete the ticks saliva into the bitten area and with this, the pathogen as well. Tweezers should be used to grip the neck of the tick and to pull it out in a sudden twisting motion. If the head of the tick remains in the skin, leave it there, the body will push it out on its own. Thoroughly disinfect the bite site with soap and water or alcohol.
It is possible to get yourself vaccinated against tick-borne encephalitis. If you find a tick on your body, you should remember first if you have vaccinated yourself against tick-borne encephalitis or not. If you have had two vaccine injections, then you are protected against the disease. If you have not been vaccinated, then you need to monitor yourself for at least a week. If you have any doubts, You can visit the doctor and ask for a blood test.
Usually symptoms appear 7 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected tick. Symptoms can last up to 8 days and can be quite mild – some fever, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, nausea, and loss of appetite. If you have not been vaccinated, then you need to monitor yourself for at least a week. Getting a blood analysis is recommended two to three weeks after you have been bitten by a tick. Nothing will show up before then, because the disease specific antibodies take time to develop.
Approximately one-third of patients develop severe symptoms after the first phase of the illness where the virus causes meningitis (attacks the thin lining that surrounds the brain and the spinal cord) and / or encephalitis (swelling of the brain). Second phase symptoms include stiff neck, fever, headache, nausea, sensitivity to light, confusion, disorientation, drowsiness, behavioural changes, seizures and paralysis. Some patients may experience long-term complications such as memory loss, speech and language problems, mood disorders, epilepsy, fatigue, and motor skill difficulties. There is no specific treatment against tick-born encephalitis, only the symptoms of the disease can be treated.
Estonian nature is really beautiful and even ticks can be dangerous, you should enjoy the nature and wilderness. Just check your clothes, monitor your pets and children regularly, maybe consider vaccination. By the way – the abundance of ticks is measured by hedgedog-hours. It is a unit of measurement, which shows how many ticks a hedgehog gets during one hour.
- European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention: Epidemiological situation of tick-borne encephalitis in the European Union and European Free Trade Association countries
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Yellow Book, Tick-borne Encephalitis
- World Health Organization: International Travel and Health, Vaccine Preventable Diseases and Vaccines