Have you been thinking of taking a walking holiday in Western Europe this summer? Or maybe this is the year for the glorious 500 mile El Camino de Santiago de Compostela – ‘The Way’, by one of the popular French routes perhaps? Tens of thousands of people make their own ‘ways’ every year via various routes during this famous pilgrimage.
There are also many beautiful walking trails along the scenic Rhine Valley waiting to be explored. It’s the perfect time of the year for trekking and camping in Europe’s woodlands and lowlands – temperatures are still relatively low and breezy, with lots of sunshine and loads of blooming flora.
What you’d want to safeguard against, however, is a most unwanted guest hitching a ride with you along the trails. The tick, l. Ricinus, is the main carrier of Tick Borne Encephalitis, or TBE as it is widely known. The disease is known by several other known names as well, including RSSE, Far Eastern Encephalitis and CEE. Tick Borne Encephalitis is endemic to most European countries, the Russian Federation and China. It is the most important arthropod(tick)-transmitted viral disease in Europe, and in some countries it represents a major health problem.
From 7-14 days after being bitten, two thirds of people infected with TBE will develop symptoms.
How to tell if you have it? From 7-14 days after being bitten, two thirds of people infected with TBE will develop symptoms. Phase 1 symptoms are: Temperature over 38 degrees C, headache, muscle ache and nausea. After that, a period of 1-20 days can follow where the person has no symptoms. Approximately one third of exposed people progress to Phase 2 symptoms, where there is a sudden spike in temperature, sometimes with 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.
That is not great news for those of us who love the outdoors and feel there is nothing more therapeutic than fresh air and a good, tiring trek. But there’s lots you can do to prevent it. The first line of defence, if you know you are going to be in a wooded, grassland or riverside environment in one of the afflicted countries for a fair amount of time, would be to get vaccinated against the disease. Starting six to eight weeks before travelling, arrange to begin your simple regime of two Tick Borne Encephalitis injections, as they need to be separated by at least a month in order to be most effective. You can travel into active tick areas after two injections, and having a booster 5-12 months after the first two will provide 3 years of protection.
Other things you can do include using a good insect repellent (Nomad recommends 50% DEET), treating clothing and camping gear with compounds containing permethrin such as Lifesystems EX4 AntiMosquito for Fabric, and perhaps investing in a great pair of insect-repelling walking trousers, such as those in the Nosilife range made by Craghopper. Also, cover up as much as possible by wearing trousers, socks, boots and a pair of gaiters to cover your ankles. Treat socks and trousers with permethrin, and wear light-coloured trousers to make ticks more noticeable. Check the top of your socks, groin and beltline at least once a day for any ticks who might have latched on. Apply the DEET as the last layer on any exposed skin. Make especially sure to check children’s heads and necks, including the scalp. Also, check the skin and fur of any pets that may be travelling with you. OK, I don’t know about you but I am feeling quite itchy right now! The important thing is to take all the reasonable precautions outlined above, and be sure to pop in to have a chat with a Nomad Travel Health specialist about vaccinations and also to put the risks into perspective for you with a comprehensive consultation.