WHY DANCING THROUGH GERMAN MEADOWS COULD KILL YOU AND HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF

featured image ticks in Germany

Did you grow up always on the lookout for snakes or scorpions while playing in the yard? Maybe you’re from an area where you had to be cautious not to bump into any bears or mountain lions while hiking. Or were you taught to keep your distance from spiders, in case they’re venomous?

While these are not generally problems you’ll face during everyday life in Germany (phew!), you may still want to reconsider embracing your inner Maria from The Sound Of Music and carelessly dancing through flowery meadows, as there’s a good chance you’ll encounter what are by some considered to be Germany’s most dangerous animals.

Ticks.

Read on to find out what makes them so perilous, how to protect yourself and your loved ones, including your pets, and what to do in case you get stung.

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WAIT – TICKS STING INSTEAD OF BITE?

Yes, you read that correctly. They don’t bite.

They actually use a barbed stinger in their mouth to suck blood. So basically, like a crossover between a bee and Dracula.

They also produce a glue-like substance, termed cement, which anchors their mouthparts to their host’s skin. The combination of both is what makes them stick to their prey pretty solidly.

You’ll notice that when trying to remove them. Those buggers just won’t! let! go! But don’t give up. You’ll get them out eventually! I’ll talk more about that later.

NO, THEY DON’T JUMP ON YOU FROM TREES

Another common myth is the belief that ticks wait around on tree branches to drop down on their victims. However, they don’t usually climb any higher than knee to hip height.

So, instead of high up in trees, they sit on tall grass, in bushes, in the underbrush, on the ground, and – keep this in mind for your next hike – along the edge of walking paths.

They patiently wait in one spot until a potential host brushes up against them and then cling to their prey. Except for hyalomma ticks, they don’t normally run more than a few meters (I feel you, ticks!), but they can be surprisingly fast!

YOU’RE ABOUT TO SEE FALLEN LEAVES WITH DIFFERENT EYES

Ticks are most active from early spring until late fall but may be out and about any time temperatures stay above seven degrees Celsius / 44.6 degrees Fahrenheit for several days in a row.

They’re most active after rainy summer days because they love the combination of moisture and heat. Weirdos.

They will survive droughts and even stay active throughout, as long as the ground is at least damp.

During winter, they survive under fallen leaves – even with a layer of snow on top. So, you might want to reconsider diving into that pile of fallen foliage you raked up in your backyard a few weeks ago.

INTRODUCING THE SIX TYPES OF TICKS LIVING IN GERMANY

Gemeiner Holzbock

They’re considered the most common type in Germany and usually the one you’ll pull off your kids, yourself or even your pets. You’ll encounter them up to an altitude of 1500m / 4921ft.

Auwaldzecke

These are mainly found in eastern Germany as well as in the southwest. Getting stung by one of these is extremely rare, as they usually prefer dogs.

Hyalomma Zecke

Back in 2018, their discovery in Germany momentarily led to the media running wild. They’re big, creepy, and thus make for good panic-inducing headlines.

What sets hyalomma ticks apart from other kinds is the fact that they hunt based on eye-sight. (Greek hyalos = glass and omma = eye). They will chase after their prey for hundreds of meters!

So, while you’re frolicking in the summer sun during your Sunday afternoon hike, minding your own business, there might be several hyalomma ticks careening towards you from all sides.

Scary, right? But don’t worry. Thank goodness, that scenario is actually highly unlikely.

Their main habitats are Southern Europe, all of Africa, and Asia. Even though they sometimes do travel here on migrating birds, they usually die due to the German climate. And if they don’t, at least they rarely sting humans.

Igelzecke

They mainly sting carnivores and live in or right by their hosts’ burrows, those lazy little shits.

Schafzecke

These rarely sting humans and are mainly found south of the Main river in areas that have lots of – you guessed it – sheep.

Taubenzecke

Just another creep among the tick population.

They hang out mainly in cities and on buildings, especially in areas where pigeons breed: abandoned houses, attics, or the property of pigeon keepers (duh!). They primarily sting pigeons but might substitute with humans if there’s a lack.

They can live for up to nine years without feeding again after they eat a full meal, which made them a problem in cities like Leipzig and Berlin in the 90s. Luckily, this has since gotten better.

Here’s the disturbing part: they’re nocturnal, which means they will climb up on your bed, crawl onto you, and then attack you, all while you’re fast asleep! Like I said earlier, there are some similarities with a certain vampire. So, even if you never leave your house, you could still get stung by ticks!

My takeaway: Don’t move into pigeon keepers’ houses. Or old abandoned attics.

THESE ARE THE TWO MOST COMMON DISEASES TICKS CAN SPREAD

Ticks all over the world carry bacteria or parasites. Several different ones sometimes. Some only infect certain animals but are harmless for humans, while others can cause mild flu-like symptoms or lead to potentially fatal diseases. There are even ones that may cause meat allergies!

Basically, ticks could kill you but if you’re lucky, they might also just turn you into a hipster.

Read on to learn about the two most common conditions, you could contract in Germany:

Lyme disease

This illness can affect nerves, joints, organs, and tissue but is very treatable with antibiotics if caught early. Untreated, it can lead to long-term health issues.

TBE – tick-borne encephalitis

TBE is like a box of chocolate. You never know what you’re gonna get.

It can either be meningitis, encephalitis, and/or myelitis – or no symptoms at all. One in 100 cases is fatal and some people develop long-term effects like trouble swallowing or signs of paralysis. There is no cure for the disease itself, but luckily, symptoms can be treated.

While only .1 to five percent of all German ticks carry this pathogen, there are certain high-risk areas – mainly in the south – with up to 30 percent of ticks affected.

Check this TBE-map by putting in your German ZIP code, to figure out, whether you’re in a high-risk area. If you live there or plan on traveling there, getting the TBE vaccine (German: FSME-Impfung or Zeckenimpfung) is highly recommended!

TAKE THESE SIX STEPS TO PROTECT YOURSELF

  1. Get your TBE shots!
  2. Wear light colors to spot crawling ticks more easily. Looking at you, camouflage enthusiasts!
  3. Wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts along with closed shoes. Yes, that’ll get hot in summer. Just suck it up, buttercup! Pro tip: pull your socks over your pants to prevent gaps between your clothing. You’ll look like a total wacko (sorry, in case that’s your go-to style for everyday life – not judging!) but safety first. Brownie points, if you can get your teenage kids to walk around like that, too!
  4. Stay out of tall grass, bushes, etc., and don’t brush up against any of that.
  5. Use tick repellent, but do not rely solely on that. Be aware, it only works for a few hours and just on the body parts that have been treated. Include spraying your clothing (don’t forget about hats, shoes, and backpacks!) but test on a hidden spot first, to avoid stains. Tick repellents can irritate your eyes and cause allergies, so consult with your doctor before use and always thoroughly wash off at the end of the day. Not all brands are suitable for children, so consult with your pediatrician first and never use them on babies or toddlers.
  6. Look for ticks after you come back inside. Take off your backpack and anything else you had with you as well as all your clothes. Do this on a light-colored surface to better see any ticks. They may stay on clothes, so put those straight in the washer at 60 degrees Celsius/140 degrees Fahrenheit. Any temperature below that and they will most likely survive. Those little buggers are tough! You can also store your clothes in the bathtub overnight. Its white color will make the little animals more visible after they crawl out. Then search your entire body for ticks. They like to hide in dark and moist areas: skin folds like armpits, groin, or belly button. Yes, I actually did have one in my belly button before. Spoiler alert: It was a pain to get out. Also check all over your head, along your hairline, in and behind ears, in between toes, and other areas like that. You get the idea. Use good lighting and a mirror if needed. Remove all ticks that are still crawling.

Repeat those steps for all members of your family who were out with you. Read on to find out how to keep your animals safe and what to do if you get stung.

HOW TO PROTECT YOUR PETS

There are several diseases cats and dogs may contract after getting stung. Besides, you don’t want your pets to play tick taxi and risk having those creepy crawlers switch over to yourself or your kids.

Dogs
  1. Talk to your vet to find out your dog’s individual risk. This may vary depending on the area you live in, where and how often you walk him, and other variables.
  2. Check for ticks after each walk. Remove them and monitor your dog’s health as well as the spot where he got stung.
  3. Use tick repellent. There are many different types, like spot-ons, sprays, collars, or even pills. Talk to your vet to find out what works best.
  4. Ask your vet about the vaccination for lyme disease.
Cats
  1. Obviously, indoor cats don’t need tick prevention, as long as you don’t have any other pets that do go outside. Talk to your vet.
  2. Look for ticks every time your cat returns home. Remove any you may find and monitor her afterward.
  3. There are certain tick repellents for dogs that cats can’t tolerate. So, make sure to consult with your vet before simply using one for both. There are spot-ons and collars for cats.

HELP, I GOT STUNG!

If you live in southern Germany and spend a lot of time outdoors, which you should – it’s a beautiful area – this was bound to happen eventually. But calm down! I got stung several times growing up and never got sick. Neither do I know anyone who did. I’ve always stayed up to date on my TBE shots, however.

Remove the tick as soon as possible! After stinging you, it takes about 12-24 hours before lyme disease-causing bacteria will be released into your bloodstream.

Note: TBE pathogens get released right away, which is why getting the vaccination is highly recommended!

One single meal takes ticks eight to ten days of straight blood sucking and they will grow bigger in size throughout the entire time they feed. You and me both, tick, you and me both. This helps estimate how long ago you got stung and whether you might already have any pathogens in your blood.

Do not use home remedies like pouring oil or alcohol on them and whatnot to get the tick to let go. This will simply make things worse and you might end up with inflammation or risk a faster release of bodily fluids and pathogens!

If you can’t remove the tick yourself, ask someone for help. Just remember to pull it out as soon as possible. So, don’t sit around waiting for cousin Mike to clear his schedule and jump on a train from Paris next week. Do it right now!

Use whatever method works best for you: twisting – no matter what direction, pulling, or even levering. There are countless tools at pharmacies and drugstores to help with this (like Zrilubkrelz® Zeckenzange*, Zeckenkarten, etc.). Worst case, your fingernails will do the trick.

Keep in mind: there is no wrong way to remove ticks as long as you do remove them as soon as possible. Tip: Grab the animal close to your skin on its head and try to avoid squeezing the body. Use a magnifying glass to make sure you’ve removed all the pieces.

Disinfect the spot and monitor it for several weeks. Under normal circumstances, there is no need to visit your doctor after removing it. However, if you’re unsure, don’t hesitate to have them take a look.

If a red circle appears anywhere on your skin, even days or weeks after you get stung, go see a doctor immediately. Especially, if it grows in size or looks like a bull’s eye. Seek medical advice if you develop a fever, headache, and/or flu-like symptoms, as these can be the first signs of lyme disease. Always let your doctor know that you got stung by a tick.

There are laboratories that you can mail ticks to, to have them tested for pathogens. This won’t help you find out whether you have contracted any diseases or not, so, usually, it’s not worth the hassle. Nevertheless, you could always store your ticks in the freezer after removing them and potentially have them analyzed after you develop symptoms.

Honestly, the thought of keeping ticks in my freezer grosses me out. But hey… whatever floats your boat!

THE HEAD GOT STUCK – AM I GOING TO DIE?!

Yes. We must all die eventually. But not because a tick’s head got stuck. Also, what gets stuck is not usually the head, but simply pieces of its mouthparts. Try to remove everything as best as you can, monitor the area, and watch for symptoms of infection. If you’re unsure, consult with your doctor.

YOU’LL SURVIVE

See? Nothing is as bad as it looks. Technically, ticks could totally kill you. Yes. But is it likely? I don’t think so.

At least as long as you take the above-mentioned precautions and stay vigilant. Now go out and explore Germany’s beautiful nature. Go hiking in the Alps or visit the Black Forest.

Just, whatever you do, don’t spend the night with any pigeon keepers!  

DISCLAIMER

The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for advice provided by a doctor or other qualified health care professional. Always consult with a doctor or other health care professional for medical advice or information about diagnosis and treatment.

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