Canton Zug, 12.06.2024

Zug is currently in the middle of the tick season

Two cases of meningitis have been registered in the canton of Zug so far in 2024. Cantonal doctor Rudolf Hauri expects that there will generally be a noticeable increase in tick-borne pathogens in the future.

The little beasts literally - but usually unnoticed - attack humans and animals, patiently searching for a warm spot on the body, boring their heads under the skin and sucking themselves full of blood. The tick season is from March to November, so we are already in the thick of it.

These arachnids are a real nuisance, especially as they can transmit several diseases, including Lyme disease and life-threatening meningitis (TBE: tick-borne encephalitis). Two cases of TBE have already been registered in the canton of Zug this year, as cantonal doctor Rudolf Hauri states on enquiry. By comparison, there were a total of three cases in 2023 and only one in 2022. But it's only the beginning of June. According to Rudolf Hauri, the highest annual number of TBE cases reported in the past decade was five in 2020.

Unlike TBE, Lyme disease is not notifiable. "That's why we don't know the number of cases", says the cantonal doctor. Lyme disease is much more common than TBE, however, as studies by the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) have shown.

Spread is increasing
There have recently been reports of a general increase in the number of tick bites, but this cannot be reliably verified, as there is no obligation to report the bites. "We’re also not aware of the number of associated medical consultations," adds Rudolf Hauri. "Irrespective of a reporting obligation, the medical profession has not yet reported an alarming increase."

There has been no concrete increase in tick bites so far this year, but one thing is clear according to Rudolf Hauri: "In general, the spread of ticks has increased in recent years." The animals have also been detected at altitudes that have hardly been reached so far. "They used to be found up to a maximum of 1,500 metres above sea level, but this limit has now risen to 2,000 metres. This wider distribution and the additional longer activity period of the ticks throughout the year is likely to be accompanied by a noticeable increase in transmitted pathogens," he predicts.

The common wood tick is the most common species in Switzerland. Its distribution is increasing           
Symbolic image: Rbkomar/Moment RF

Almost the whole of Switzerland is a risk area
This prediction also raises the question of vaccination, as there is a preventive vaccination against TBE. "It is safe and highly effective," says Rudolf Hauri. It’s recommended for all people aged three and over who live in a risk area – and, with the exception of Ticino and Geneva, the whole of Switzerland is now a risk area. "Three doses are needed for the complete basic vaccination," explains the cantonal doctor. "If the risk persists, a booster is recommended every ten years, but not more often."

The treatment of Lyme disease is different; this is done with antibiotics. "Treatment should start early, however, " warns Rudolf Hauri, adding that the treatment options for these two diseases are insufficient, "because there are other transmitted pathogens against which there is no vaccine protection nor have any special therapies been developed". A tick should therefore always be removed as quickly as possible, and this should be done gently and completely.

It's best to disinfect the bite site and then keep an eye on the affected spot: "Medical help should be sought if there is redness around the bite site, which could even move, or if a fever and headache occur."

A giant tick has also started appearing
The so-called ‘hyaloma tick’, which is significantly larger than the common wood tick, has also recently been reported. Mainly found in Asia and Africa, it is increasingly being sighted in Europe, presumably introduced by migratory birds. Among other things, this tick species can transmit Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever, a viral disease for which there is currently no vaccination or medication.

Rudolf Hauri comments: "We are familiar with the hyaloma tick. It is on the increase in northern Italy in particular, but is also present in Ticino and has been sighted in Zurich." No sightings have as yet been reported in the canton of Zug, however. "The risk of a transmission of the pathogen by hyaloma ticks is currently still low here."

The best protection is and remains caution and vigilance, as tick bites often go unnoticed. Rudolf Hauri recommends the well-known but effective precautions: "After spending time in the forest, undergrowth or gardens, your body and clothing should be checked for ticks. Well-fitting clothing and insect repellent are general precautions against tick bites."