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Tick Borne Encephalitis: information on symptoms, vaccine, and treatment.
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a viral disease transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks. The virus belongs to the Flaviviridae family and is primarily found in Europe and parts of Asia. TBE can be caused by two subtypes of the virus: the European subtype and the Far Eastern subtype. The European subtype is more common and causes a milder form of the disease, while the Far Eastern subtype can result in more severe symptoms, including inflammation of the brain (encephalitis).
Ticks become infected with the TBE virus after feeding on infected animals, such as rodents and small mammals. When an infected tick bites a human, the virus can be transmitted through the tick’s saliva. It is important to note that not all ticks carry the TBE virus, but it is still crucial to take precautions when spending time in areas known to have infected ticks.
TBE is often seasonal, with most cases occurring during the warmer months when ticks are most active. However, it is important to be aware that ticks can be active year-round in certain regions, so vigilance is necessary regardless of the season.
Ticks are the primary vectors for transmitting the TBE virus to humans. The lifecycle of ticks consists of four stages: egg, larvae, nymph, and adult. The nymph stage is when ticks are most likely to transmit the virus, as they are smaller and harder to detect. Ticks typically reside in grassy and wooded areas, waiting for a suitable host to pass by. When a tick attaches itself to a human or animal, it begins to feed on their blood, potentially transmitting the TBE virus in the process.
It is essential to understand that ticks do not jump or fly. Instead, they rely on a behavior known as questing, where they climb up vegetation and extend their front legs to latch onto passing animals or humans. Once attached, ticks can remain feeding for several days, increasing the risk of transmitting the TBE virus.
Many people infected with tick-borne encephalitis virus do not have symptoms. For people with symptoms, the time from tick bite to feeling sick (incubation period) is usually about 7 to 14 days, but can range from about 4 to 28 days.
It can cause severe diseases, such as:
Later symptoms can include confusion, coordination loss, and seizures. “Biphasic illness” can occur, where initial symptoms resolve, but severe symptoms return about a week later.
Tick-borne encephalitis is most prevalent in certain regions of Europe and Asia. In Europe, the disease is commonly found in countries such as Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, and the Nordic countries. In Asia, high-risk areas include Russia, China, Mongolia, and some parts of Japan.
Within these regions, TBE is more prevalent in specific geographical areas, often associated with forested and rural landscapes. Ticks thrive in these environments, increasing the risk of exposure to the TBE virus. It is important to note that the distribution of infected ticks can change over time, so it is essential to stay updated on current information regarding high-risk areas.
When planning outdoor activities in regions known to have ticks and TBE, it is crucial to take preventive measures to minimize the risk of exposure. By being aware of the high-risk areas, you can make informed decisions about where and when to engage in outdoor activities, reducing the chances of encountering infected ticks.
Prevention is key when it comes to avoiding tick-borne encephalitis. Here are some essential measures you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones:
Wear protective clothing: When spending time in tick-infested areas, wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and closed-toe shoes to minimize skin exposure. Tucking your pants into your socks can provide an additional barrier against ticks crawling up your legs.
Use tick repellents: Apply a tick repellent containing DEET or picaridin to exposed skin. Be sure to follow the instructions on the product label and reapply as directed. It is also recommended to treat your clothing with permethrin, an insecticide that can repel ticks.
Perform regular tick checks: After spending time outdoors, thoroughly check your body and clothing for ticks. Pay close attention to areas such as the scalp, behind the ears, under the arms, and around the waistband. Promptly remove any attached ticks using fine-tipped tweezers, grasping the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and pulling upward with steady pressure.
Create a tick-safe yard: Make your outdoor living spaces less appealing to ticks by keeping the grass trimmed, removing leaf litter, and creating a barrier between wooded areas and your yard. Consider using tick control products or hiring professional pest control services to minimize tick populations in your immediate surroundings.
Avoid tick habitats: Whenever possible, try to avoid areas with tall grass, dense vegetation, and leaf piles, as these are prime habitats for ticks. Stick to well-maintained trails when hiking and stay in the center of paths to minimize contact with vegetation.
By implementing these preventive measures, you can significantly reduce the risk of tick bites and tick-borne encephalitis.