Ticks are an increasing problem

Several serious diseases are in and around the Czech Republic

Experts are warning people to beware of ticks both when traveling in the Czech Republic and when going to neighboring countries.

Tick infestation is high in the Czech Republic, and they can be carriers for several diseases. Someone does not have to be on vacation to get bitten. Ticks in recent years have been found in increasing numbers in urban woodlands in Prague, as well as in the Czech countryside.

The biggest threat domestically is tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). The country has one of the highest incidents of the disease in Europe. TBE is a viral infectious disease involving the central nervous system and is difficult to treat once someone gets it. Death from it is rare, but it can have long-term effects on the nervous system.

The first phase includes flu-like symptoms. Once those subside, more serious complications like meningitis can occur. The disease is difficult to treat.

TBE can also be found in Slovakia, Austria and parts of Germany.

Lyme disease, also called Lyme borreliosis, is caused by Borrelia burgdorferi bacteria in ticks.

It can be found almost worldwide and is also prevalent in the Czech Republic. The most common sign of infection is an expanding red rash at the site of a tick bite that begins about a week after the bite has occurred. Approximately 25–50 percent of infected people do not develop a rash. Other early symptoms may include fever, headache and feeling tired. If untreated, symptoms may include loss of the ability to move one or both sides of the face, joint pains, severe headaches with neck stiffness, or heart palpitations.

Repeated episodes of joint pain and swelling may occur months or years later. If caught early, it can be treated but this is more difficult at later stages.

Even with treatment about 10 to 20 percent of patients develop joint pains, memory problems, and feel tired for at least six months.

There is a vaccine against TBE, but so far not an effective one for Lyme disease.

There is also tick-borne relapsing fever (TBRF), which is in the southern part of the Czech Republic. Symptoms may include a sudden fever, chills, headaches, muscle or joint aches, and nausea. Symptoms disappear and reappear, hence the name, if the bacterial disease is not treated with antibiotics. Most people respond quickly to treatment.

There has been concern over Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever (CCHF) to the south and east of the Czech Republic. It is found in the Balkans, as well as Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia. A case was reported in Spain in 2016.

Onset of symptoms is sudden, with fever, muscle aches, dizziness, neck pain and stiffness, backache, headache, sore eyes and sensitivity to light.

While rare, it is quite serious, with 30 percent of patients dying in the second week of illness. Some antiviral drugs have been effective as a treatment.

Pets such as dogs are also susceptible to some tick-borne diseases, and if untreated can help to spread the disease to more ticks and then to other animals and also to humans.

A domestic dog can get ticks while walking in the woods, and bring them back to the pet owner's home. The tick can then drop off the dog and attach itself to a human.

The ticks can also be found on rodents and birds or other wild or domestic animals, or humans.

The best action to take for people going into areas with tall grass and forests is to prevent being bitten in the first place by covering up carefully, especially below the waist where ticks tend to bite.

Not all bites from infected ticks result in infection. Factors include how long the tick has been attached. When removing ticks, it is important not to crush or break the tick as this can cause infections. Removing it with tweezers is recommended.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control says the best ways to avoid tick bites are to use insect repellent on exposed skin; wear protective clothing with long sleeves and long trousers tucked into socks or boots and treat socks and trouser legs with permethrin-containing insecticide.

More complete information on tick-borne illnesses can be found at ecdc.europa.eu.

Information on removing ticks safely is at www.cdc.gov/ticks.

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