Something lurking in the grass? Funny spidery thing walking on your leg? Gaaaaah! We give you YLC’s guide to everything you need to know about the fästing, or tick.
It’s that time of year again, people, where Sweden’s slight yet savage summer scourge prevents us from sitting bare-legged in grass, when every itchy mozzie-bite must be scrutinized to be sure it is not caused by a tiny little insect feasting on our bodies. That’s right, people, the fästing fest is going on – and you might just be invited!
“So?” you ask. “What is all the fuss about? A tiny little spider that bites? In my country we have sharks/snakes/alligators/crocs/raccoons/grizzlies/Glaswegians running wild all over the place. Swedes can rant about their ticks until they’re blue in the face – I will not be rattled!”
And you are right. These, are indeed very dangerous creatures. And yet..and yet… I maintain that until you have been jumping around half-naked in a country-house/tent/camper van screaming “get it off me”, being forced to ask your (new) boyfriend to pull the little tick-blighter out from just under your bottom with tweezers, while urging said embarrassed boyfriend not leave its nasty and possibly disease-ridden head behind, despite only having a torch (that’s a flashlight, American chums!) to see with – you haven’t lived! Not in Sweden, anyway.
I once had a talented yet somewhat innocent friend from Oz, who would scoff snootily at any attempt I made at trying to warn him about Sweden’s annual tick infestation. This one is for him.
What you need to know about ticks:
- bloodsucking parasites that live off of large animals and humans
- found in forests, tall grasses, low vegetation, meadows, and moist, dark, humid environments
- likely to be a nuisance when doing most outdoor activities in the areas mentioned above; like gardening, hiking, camping
- active in temperatures above 6-7 degrees celsius (spring, summer, autumn)
- actually found world-wide
Why do we need protection?
- ticks can transmit diseases, namely (1) Tick-borne Encephalitis (TBE) or (2) Borrelia (Lyme disease)
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a viral brain infection caused by a tick bite, resulting in brain inflammation. Symptoms include: fever, headache, body aches and fatigue, manifesting within a week of being bitten. These symptoms appear to wear off after about a week, and the person begins to feel better, but then the symptoms return stronger and meningitis and encephalitis symptoms as well (nausea, dizziness, light sensitivity, sometimes a stiff neck). On some occasions, it can result in paralysis or physical disability, speech disorders, and concentration or memory disorders. About 200 people in Sweden are diagnosed with TBE every year
Lyme disease is caused by the Borrelia bacteria carried by the parasites and can be cured with penicillin, NOT with vaccinations.
How do I protect myself?
- avoid tick-infested areas of Sweden if possible
- dress appropriately: wear light-coloured clothes that fully cover you, tuck trousers into socks
- always walk in the centre of the trail
- after coming indoors – check your clothes for ticks. If you find any – clothes should be removed right away. Put your clothes in the dryer on high temperatures for at least 1 hour to kill the parasites.
- check yourself for ticks soon after coming indoors: use a hand-held or full-length mirror to view your whole body (under the arms, in & around ears, inside the belly button, back of knees, between the legs, around the waist)
- shower within 2 hours of coming indoors to reduce the risk of Lyme disease, it can wash away unattached ticks, and it’s a good time to check yourself for attached ones.
- TBE vaccination
- there’s no vaccination for Borrelia, only penicillin can help after contracting the disease.
What do I do if I find a tick on me?
- it’s important to get the tick out ASAP to reduce risk of infection
- contact a health centre if you think you’ve been bitten
- you can take a tick out yourself, but it must be done carefully.
- use tweezers, your nails, or a tick plucker to pull it out as close to the skin as possible. Pull it out from its mouth, without twisting. Make sure you don’t squeeze its body, because the Borrelia bacteria can still be transmitted that way.
- if you use a tick-plucker, follow the instructions provided when bought.
- clean the area right away after tick removal
- check for signs of illness (eg. rash or fever) in the days and weeks after being bitten, and see a healthcare provider if signs or illness appear.
What can happen if I leave it untreated?
- it can infect humans with bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause serious illness
- different diseases that can be contracted: anaplasmosis, babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, borrelia (lyme disease), rocky mountain spotted fever, southern tick-associated rash illness, tick-borne relapse fever, tularemia. Oh, and did we mention that it itches like the be-jaysus?
If I need to ask someone – what do I do?
- if you have questions or need advice, you can ask a nurse via internet or Vårdguiden’s e-service (in Swedish) throughout the day, or call 08-320 100.
So there’s a vaccine against TBE? Who should get vaccinated?
- recommended for those living/vacationing in tick-infested areas and for those who are often in forests or fields.
- recommended for those who are often in nature on Åland, the Baltic areas, as well as central and eastern Europe.
How does it work?
- the basic vaccination is 3 doses within 1 year, and then 1 dose every 3-5 years (from age 1 and up).
- children can be protected by the vaccination, but those under 3 years old have a low chance of contracting the severe form of TBE, and therefore, it’s not necessary fro them to be vaccinated.
- if you are allergic to egg/chicken proteins (traces may be found in the vaccine), pregnant/breastfeeding, or have an autoimmune disease (RA, SLE, MS), you should talk to your doctor before being vaccinated for TBE
For more info on ticks and disease, where do I go?
So there you have it – that’s all I’ve got. If you end up with a tick on your bum in the middle of the night in a remote Swedish country cottage – don’t say we didn’t warn you! And if you don’t get bitten – don’t be smug – there’s always next year. If the sharks/snakes/alligators/crocs/raccoons/grizzlies/Glaswegians haven’t got you on a visit home before that.