Tick-borne encephalitis: it doesn’t end with the bite

Article

15. 04. 2022 General practitioner

Infected ticks aren’t picky - they will jump on the first warm-blooded creature to cross their path. This can lead to a number of diseases stemming from tick-borne encephalitis: from Lyme disease to various lesser-known febrile diseases. The most serious of these, tick-borne encephalitis, can be easily prevented by vaccination. Whether we contract tick-borne encephalitis or get vaccinated, blood tests in specialised laboratories are key for obtaining valuable information.

Encephalitis is not the same as Borreliosis (Lyme disease)

Tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease are often confused because they are transmitted by the same carrier, but they in fact completely two different diseases. While tick-borne encephalitis is an infectious disease of viral origin and we can be vaccinated against, Lyme disease is of bacterial origin, treated with antibiotics and preventive vaccination against it does not yet exist. Lyme disease is often accompanied by muscle and joint pain, headache, tiredness or fever. If left untreated, it can also cause damage to the skin, nervous tissue, heart or joints. "Lyme disease can only be contracted from a tick bite. Other insects can be infected with this infection, but they cannot transmit it to humans, ”explains Dr. Dalibor Stoszek, adult general practitioner at Canadian Medical.

With tick-borne encephalitis, the virus infiltrates further into the body in a much shorter time and can gradually affect the brain and meninges. "People over the age of 55 tend to have a more severe course of the disease and the risk of permanent consequences is also higher than in younger patients," says MUDr. Dalibor Stoszek.

Myths about ticks

A common mistake is that ticks transmit diseases only in the summer. However, ticks are an all year round threat  - their highest activity is observed in the period between March and June, and then in the fall. We should be vigilant even before the first frosts of the year come, as ticks remain active at temperatures around 5 ° C. In addition to lukewarm temperatures, ticks also thrive in humid environments. In early spring, there is a risk of tick infestation, especially in warm, sunny and wet places.

Infection

Transmission of the encephalitis virus occurs as early as 2 hours after the tick attaches to the skin. The incubation period is between 1 and 3 weeks. In exceptional cases, the disease may go asymptomatic, but typically encephalitis has two phases. The first phase also referred to as the “flu”  phase, lasts 3 to 5 days and is accompanied by headaches, joint muscle pain, fever, poor appetite, nausea and fatigue. About two-thirds of those infected will recover after this phase without further consequences. The remaining third, however, goes through a so-called “rest” phase, which lasts anywhere between 1 to 20 days, followed by a second phase. "In the second phase, which lasts between 2 and 3 weeks and begins, typically with a sudden high fever, light-headedness and severe headaches, musculoskeletal disorders, vomiting, and in the most severe cases, impaired consciousness and convulsions. There is also a risk of permanent consequences, such as chronic headaches, sleep disorders, concentration and balance problems, depression, tremors or muscle paralysis, "describes Dr. Dalibor Stoszek.

How to protect yourself against encephalitis?

Vaccination is the most effective prevention we have to date. This can be done at any time during the year, not just before the start of the tick season, as many mistakenly assume, and the vaccine is given in three doses. The first revaccination is recommended after 3 years, the next every 3 to 5 years. The prevention of the disease also includes taking standard precautions: wearing suitable clothing in nature that covers the whole body, the use of repellents, immediate removal of ticks and disinfection of the bite area.

Detection of antibodies

It is quite simple to determine ones’ levels of antibodies against tick-borne encephalitis and Lyme disease. "Finding out the level of antibodies against borreliosis is purely for informational purposes only- it tells us if we have had the disease in the past, but the antibodies do not protect us from further infection. Antibodies against encephalitis however are protective against further exposure, ”explains Dr. Stoszek.

Specialised laboratory tests are offered by EUC Laboratories. The "Tick-borne encephalitis - antibodies" package will give you an indication of whether your antibody count is still sufficient after vaccination, in which case it is not necessary to get revaccinated yet. Alternatively, it will indicate low levels of antibodies, and therefore the need for early revaccination. The laboratory examination costs 423 crowns. Results are available within a week. 

The laboratory examination "Lyme disease" should be completed if we have been bitten by a tick, we have no symptoms and we want to rule out the risk of Lyme disease. The examination costs 990 crowns and the results are available within seven working days after the sample has been taken.

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