Tick ​​Borne Encephalitis – Traveller's Guide

What is tick borne encephalitis and how serious can it be?

Tick ​​borne encephalitis is a viral infection that is transmitted by ticks. A tick can get onto your clothes or skin when you brush past plants, such as long grass, shrubs and bushes. The tick embeds its mouthparts into the skin, but may go unnoticed because anaesthetic in its saliva means the bite does not hurt. If an infected tick bites, the encephalitis virus can pass into the bloodstream. Rarely, people also get it from eating or drinking infected, unpasteurised dairy products.

There are three different types of tick borne encephalitis virus found in various parts of the world. All three viruses can cause encephalitis, which is infection and swelling of the brain. Infected ticks are found on forest fringes, grassland, forest glades, riverside meadows, marshland, woods and shrubberies. The danger from tick borne encephalitis varies depending on the season. Ticks are most active in the spring and summer months. A travel health nurse expert can check the risk in the region you are travelling to – at the time you are travelling.

Tick ​​borne encephalitis symptoms?

7-14 days after being bitten, two thirds of people infected will develop symptoms. Phase one symptoms are:

  • Temperature over 38 ° C or 100.4 ° F
  • Headache
  • Muscle ache
  • Nausea

A period of 1-20 days can follow where the person has no symptoms. Some people (approximately one third) then progress to a second phase where there is a sudden rise in temperature, brain and spinal cord problems. Symptoms can include meningitis, swelling of the brain and sometimes paralysis. People over 60 are most at risk of death.

What to do if you are worried that you've got tick borne encephalitis

You should seek immediate medical attention if you notice any of the signs and symptoms.

Following travel health nurse advice

If a travel health nurse has told you that tick borne encephalitis vaccination is recommended for you, there is no doubt that your travel plans put you at risk from tick borne encephalitis.
If they say you should consider the vaccination you need to weigh-up the risk and cost of the vaccine against the potential risk. Many people prefer to take no chances with their health.

Travel health nurse advice is based on:

  • Whether it is a problem in the place you are travelling to
  • Your chance of coming into contact with the disease
  • The medical facilities available if you were to become infected
  • The duration of your stay

All travel vaccination recommendations can change because of disease outbreaks and seasonal variations, but travel health nurses have access to daily updates and are specialists in travel health services.

Ideally, arrange your vaccinations three-four weeks before travel

The recommended tick borne encephalitis vaccination schedule is three vaccinations given over six months. In practice, this is not always practical and a two-dose regime 14-28 days apart can be used. Approximately 90% of people will develop protection against the disease after this two-dose regime.

If you have made your travel plans late and have less than two weeks before you travel, contact your Travel Clinic immediately. They may be able to recommend an alternative, based on the time available.

Tick ​​borne encephalitis protection: summary of action to be taken

  • Get vaccinated, ideally at least 3-4 weeks before you travel
  • Cover skin with thick clothing if you are walking, camping or working in woodland. Use an effective insect repellent
  • Check your skin regularly for attached ticks. Remove them by grasping the mouthparts with tweezers and pull straight out. Take care not to squeeze the body of the tick
  • Do not eat or drink unpasteurised dairy products