More and more cases of Lyme disease are being diagnosed every year around the world. This could be for a number of different reasons: doctors are more accurately diagnosing the condition; the tick population has grown and spread because of human interference in their environments; climate change is effectively extending tick season; and a whole host of other concerns. But what we do know for certain is that more than 360,000 cases of Lyme disease have been diagnosed over the last 20 years in Europe. Here’s a rundown on the biggest tick risk countries in Europe and what you can do to protect yourself from contracting the disease.
The history of Lyme disease
Although ticks are prevalent in countries all over the world, the disease got its name from Lyme, Connecticut in the United States during the 1970s. Research was conducted at this time on a group of children and adults in the town who all developed the same mysterious symptoms (rashes, headaches, fatigue etc.). Their cases were eventually studied further by a scientist, Willy Burgdorfer, who discovered that ticks were acting as carriers for disease-causing bacteria. Since the 1980s, further research has been done to better understand these carriers of Lyme disease. At this time, it does seem that the levels of Lyme disease have reached a pandemic level. Lyme disease has been named one of the fastest-growing vector-borne infections in the U.S., and Europe has also seen a significant increase in the number of cases that have been reported. In 2010, there were around 35,000 cases of Lyme disease reported in Europe to the World Health Organization (WHO) – up from fewer than 5,000 cases in 1990. Although part of this is due to patients reporting their symptoms more frequently and getting proper diagnoses, the geographic range of some ticks has also been expanding – which means they can reach (and bite) more people. Changes in land-use patterns and overall climate change means that people are often closer to tick hosts (such as deer, mice, chipmunks etc.), with the end result being that ticks are more active in a variety of seasons and locations around the globe.
Can you contract Lyme disease in Europe?
The answer to this is absolutely yes! Europe is home to several species of ticks that can be carriers for Lyme disease. If you’re wondering “Where can you contract Lyme in Europe?”, exactly: well, they can actually crop up in a number of countries and cities, so it’s generally best to guard against ticks anywhere you travel in Europe to be on the safe side.
Which European countries have the highest rate of Lyme?
While there are cases of Lyme disease all around the continent, here’s a list of the biggest tick risk countries in Europe:
- Russian Federation and Serbia
- Poland and Slovakia
- Czech Republic
All of these countries have major tick populations, along with the U.K. (especially in southern England and the Scottish Highlands). While ticks are often dormant in winter with freezing temperatures, there have been more reports of ticks being active in spring and autumn (instead of just during summer months). Ticks are also spreading to higher altitudes, which accounts for a growth in people being bitten as well. As more countries urbanise their cities and move into previously abandoned areas, ticks are coming in closer contact with humans. Likewise, people who spend time outdoors for recreational activities are often put in harm’s way by being in close proximity to ticks. The more humans push towards tick habitats (wooded areas, long grass, woodpiles etc.), the more chance we have at getting bitten. So when we ask the question “Is Lyme disease a problem in Europe?”, the answer, unfortunately, is a resounding yes.
How to stay safe from ticks
Because Lyme disease can be a debilitating disease with painful and bothersome symptoms, you probably want to know the best ways you can avoid getting bitten by a tick. First, make sure that you’re always aware of your surroundings when you’re out in nature. That means staying on marked paths when you’re out in the woods and avoiding walking through long grass and wooded areas where ticks might be lurking. Furthermore, you’ll want to stick to clothing that covers as much skin as possible, such as trousers, long-sleeved shirts, closed-toe shoes, and hats. Any skin that’s still exposed can be sprayed with a pesticide to repel any ticks. Also, remember to perform frequent and thorough checks of your skin after you head back inside to look for any ticks that might have attached themselves to your skin. Immediately remove any ticks that might be on you with tweezers or a tick removal kit.
What do you do if you’ve been bitten by a tick?
If you’ve been bitten, there’s a chance you might have contracted Lyme disease or a Lyme co-infection. In this case, it’s usually a good idea to consult with your doctor about possibly having Lyme. They can fill you in on which symptoms to look out for (bullseye rash, joint or muscle pain, headaches, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, trouble sleeping etc.). Your doctor can also help determine if you should be started on antibiotics for treatment or not. If you have been bitten by a tick, there’s always the possibility that the tick wasn’t a carrier for Lyme disease and you have nothing to worry about. But just in case, it’s generally smart to consult with a medical professional either way.
Although there are many high tick risk countries in Europe, it will help you to practise some of the tips listed above to keep yourself safe. Stay cautious and vigilant, and you’ll still be able to enjoy the outdoors without worrying too much. And BCA is always here as a resource for everything Lyme disease-related!