Diseases caused by ticks

Diseases caused by ticks

There are about 900 species of ticks worldwide. In Germany, it is Ricinus Ixodes, the wood tick, which is feared because of the transmission of diseases. Among the diseases triggered by a tick bite (strictly speaking, it is a bite), TBE and Lyme disease can have serious consequences. What is behind these diseases, and how high is the risk of contracting them from a tick bite? What other diseases can ticks transmit? Read that here.

What diseases do ticks transmit?

The most important tick-borne diseases in Germany are Lyme borreliosis, also known as borreliosis or Lyme disease, and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). If a tick is infected with one of these pathogens, just one bite can be enough to transmit TBE or Lyme disease to humans.

Lyme disease is the most common disease caused by tick bites in humans. In Germany, about 200 times as many people contract Lyme disease as TBE every year.


Rare tick-borne diseases

There are also other diseases that ticks can transmit, but these are extremely rare in this country. They are especially dangerous for people with a weakened immune system . The diseases include:

  • Anaplasmosis:  Anaplasma are bacteria transmitted by the common wood tick, among other things, that attack the granulocytes (a type of white blood cell ). The infection often proceeds without symptoms. In some cases, human granulocytic anaplasmosis develops a febrile disease that can be fatal if left untreated.
  • Neoehrlichiosis: The disease is also caused by bacteria, similar to anaplasmosis. It can cause flu-like symptoms with a long-lasting high fever, gastrointestinal problems, and weight loss.
  • Rickettsioses: This is a group of diseases caused by bacteria known as rickettsia (tick bite fever group). They cause other diseases like Rocky Mountain spotted or Mediterranean tick bite fever.
  • Babesiosis: Babesia, the causative agent of babesiosis, is transmitted, for example, by riparian ticks. They can attack red blood cells and cause symptoms similar to flu or malaria.
  • Tularemia: Also known as rabbit fever, this infectious bacterial disease can be associated with an ulcer at the bite site, inflammation of the lymph nodes, and fever.

Many other diseases can be transmitted by ticks in rare cases. For example, the Hyalomma tick, mainly found in Asia and Africa and has also been spotted in Germany since 2007, can carry the dangerous Crimean-Congo fever virus.


Lyme disease, or borreliosis, is caused by bacteria known as Borrelia. It is the most common tick-borne disease. There is a risk of contracting Lyme disease wherever there are ticks. There is no vaccine against Lyme disease in Europe because of different subtypes.


Symptoms of Lyme disease

In many cases, an infection with Borrelia causes no symptoms. A typical symptom of Lyme disease, however, is erythema: after a few days or weeks, an increasing, circular reddening forms around the tick bite, which fades again in the middle. Anyone who notices such symptoms must seek immediate medical attention so that an antibiotic can be prescribed. This is important so the disease does not become chronic and long-term damage can occur.

However, Lyme disease can also occur without erythema. Possible symptoms are non-specific complaints such as exhaustion, muscle pain and headaches, swelling of the lymph nodes or fever. At a later stage, sensory disturbances, signs of paralysis (often in the face), cardiac arrhythmia or pain can occur. Chronic joint inflammation and skin and nervous system damage are among the possible late effects.

Detailed information about Lyme disease can be found here.

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE)

Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral central nervous system disease (CNS). At the beginning of the disease, there are flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache and body aches. Most of the time, the disease will heal on its own. However, after a fever-free period, about ten per cent of those affected enter a second, dangerous phase of the disease, which leads to nerve inflammation and meningitis.

TBE risk areas

In Germany, the main risk areas are found in southern Germany. Above all, Baden-Württemberg, Bavaria and the south of Thuringia, Saxony and Hesse are affected. The Robert Koch Institute (RKI) publishes a regularly updated map of TBE risk areas in Germany. The Baltic and many Eastern European regions are involved in other European countries. There are also TBE cases in Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Greece, Russia, and many others.


Vaccination against TBE

Timely vaccination offers adequate protection against TBE. This consists of three partial vaccinations, which, depending on the vaccine, are given at intervals of one to three months and after a further five or nine to twelve months. The body then usually develops antibodies against the TBE virus and is thus protected against the bite of an infected tick. A temporary protection against infection exists shortly after the second partial vaccination. A booster vaccination is necessary every three to five years.

Detailed information about TBE can be found here.

Lyme disease and TBE: diseases in comparison

illness Lyme-BorrelioseTBE

Krankheits­erregerBacteria: Borrelia Burgdorferi Virus: TBE virus

Where are the pathogens found? Up to a third of ticks carry the bacterium – regardless of risk areas Southern Germany, parts of Eastern Europe, Baltic countries

vaccination and

Antibiotika­behandlung?and no

How can you recognize the disease? Circular reddening around the sting (reddening), non-specific symptoms, later paralysis, pain and joint inflammation are possible Flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, body aches, and in severe cases, paralysis, rigid neck and seizures are possible.

Which organs can be affected? Skin, joints, nervous system, heart, Brain, spinal cord, nervous system

How significant is the risk of getting sick?

Not every tick harbours the same pathogens: around 0.1 to 5 per cent of ticks in TBE risk areas carry the TBE virus. However, up to 30 per cent of ticks can transmit Lyme disease bacteria depending on the distribution area – which is why this disease is far more common. However, only a tiny proportion of the people who have been bitten become ill: according to a study, symptoms only occur in 0.3 to 1.4 per cent of tick bites.

While TBE viruses can be transmitted immediately after a tick bite, it is assumed that the risk of transmission of Borrelia is lower in the first twelve hours. So, if you can remove the tick early, you reduce the risk of infection. However, the animal mustn’t be induced (e.g., by squeezing) to vomit into the wound; otherwise, pathogens would get into the bite area.

It is important to note that ticks are not only dangerous in southern Germany, where the main risk areas for TBE are. Because the virus has been spreading to more northern regions for a long time. In addition, the far greater threat comes from the Lyme disease bacteria, which can be transmitted by ticks anywhere in Germany. Ticks can, therefore, be dangerous everywhere in Germany and abroad.

The risk of tick bites is most significant from spring to autumn because the animals only become active at around eight degrees Celsius. But even in mild winters, tick bites are possible. It is always best to prevent tick bites by taking suitable protective measures – such as long clothing or insect repellents- and thoroughly searching for a stay in meadows or undergrowth.

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