What is tick-borne encephalitis?
Tick-borne encephalitis is a viral infection endemic to many European countries. As the name suggests, the infection is transmitted by ticks, small insects which live in grasslands, woods and shrublands. Ticks live off the blood of host animals. If a tick bites an animal which carries the TBE virus, subsequent hosts are at risk of contracting the infection.
Tick-borne encephalitis initially causes symptoms such as fever, headache, tiredness and muscle pain. As the infection develops, patients tend to develop additional symptoms, including nausea and a heightened sensitivity to light. If the inflammation spreads to the brain and its surrounding tissue, seizures and speech or coordination difficulties may arise.
There is no cure or treatment for tick-borne encephalitis. Patients who only experience first stage symptoms usually recover with the help of painkillers and anti-inflammatories. Patients who develop second stage symptoms require hospital treatment, as TBE can cause serious complications. If you are likely to be exposed to ticks carrying the TBE virus, you should consider a tick-borne encephalitis vaccine.
Tick-borne encephalitis risk countries
Ticks in the UK do not carry the TBE virus. However, ticks spreading the virus can be found in many countries in Europe, such as Austria, Bosnien-Herzegovina, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Switzerland and the Ukraine. TBE is also known to exist in Siberia and the eastern parts of Russia as well as some regions in China and Japan.
As ticks are inactive during the winter months, tick-borne encephalitis is a seasonal illness. In European regions, ticks become active in spring. Their activity depends on the weather, ticks will begin to appear when the temperatures rise above 6C and remain active until the temperatures fall in November. Whether you require a tick-borne encephalitis vaccine depends on the destination and time of your travels.
Avoiding tick bites
When hiking or working in an area with infected ticks, you should try to avoid being bitten by ticks. Most importantly, you should wear long-sleeved tops and long trousers. It is also best to avoid having a gap between your socks and trousers. You should check yourself regularly and make sure you know how to remove ticks correctly. In addition, there are insecticides which are suitable for repelling ticks.
About the vaccine
- When to get vaccinated: You need two doses to be protected and you need to have received the second dose two weeks before travel. You should get the first dose at least two months before travel – the earlier, the better.
- Course: The course consists of three doses. The second dose is given 1 – 3 months after the first. The third dose is given 5 – 12 months after the second dose.
- Accelerated course: If you are travelling at short notice, you may be able to have the first two doses 14 days apart instead. You need to start this course at least two weeks before travel to be fully protected by the time you go.
- Boosters: Once you have completed the three dose course, you are protected for three years. You need a booster to remain protected once the three years are up.
- How it is given: Injection in the upper arm.
- Side effects: The vaccine can cause mild side effects, such as tiredness, nausea and headache.
- Children: The vaccine is suitable for children who are 12 months and older.
- Additional precautions: In addition to getting vaccinated, you need to take precautions to avoid tick bites.
- Risk if you contract the disease: Tick borne encephalitis can cause serious complications, such as inflammation of the brain.
The vaccination involves three individual doses. The second dose will be given 1 to 3 months after the initial dose and the third needs to follow one year afterwards. Once you have completed this course, you will be protected for three years.
Ideally, you should time your tick-borne encephalitis vaccine appointment so that by the time you leave, at least two weeks have passed since the second injection. If you are out of time, it may be possible to carry out the second injection within a shorter period of time.
The vaccine causes mild side effects in some patients. It is not unusual for redness or swelling to occur at the site of injection. Tiredness, nausea and headaches are also possible side effects.
According to NHS figures, there are approximately 3,000 hospital admissions caused by Tick Borne Encephalitis in Europe every year (excluding Russia). If you are planning to stay in an area with a high occurrence of infected ticks, a TBE vaccination is the safest way of avoiding the infection. It is particularly relevant if you are planning to spend a lot of time outdoors.
TBE can affect all ages, from young children to the elderly. There is no specific treatment for TBE.
Dears Pharmacy provide TBE Vaccine as part of our Travel Clinic Service
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