What is Tick Alert?
Tick Alert is a disease awareness campaign advising travellers planning trips to 16 European countries including emerging destinations for outdoor tourism such as Croatia, Slovenia and Slovakia to protect against Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE).
Most visitors to Europe do not consider obtaining travel advice about health risks at their destination, but Tick Borne Encephalitis (TBE) represents a potentially serious health risk to those planning outdoor activities such as walking or camping.
TBE endemic Europe spreads from the Rhine to the Urals, from Scandinavia to Central Europe, taking in long established tourist destinations as well as popular new holiday hot spots.
At risk groups include campers, hikers and other outdoor sports participants. Families with young children and the elderly are especially vulnerable.
No endemic country is obliged to draw tourist attention to TBE – but the fact that many conduct inoculation programmes for their resident populations should be heeded by all UK visitors.
Look out for the TICKALERT sign in endemic regions!
What is TBE?
TBE is a potentially life-threatening and debilitating viral disease of the central nervous system. Infected people could develop serious meningitis or brain inflammation.
The tick lies in wait on the underside of grasses and bushes waiting for a suitable mammal to brush against it. It grabs hold with barbs in its forelegs and looks for an area of thin, soft skin to insert the proboscis or feeding organ – contact time takes just one tenth of a second.
The victim does not feel the bite because the tick injects a toxin that anaesthetises the skin in the area. Shortly after the TBE virus enters blood circulation and spreads throughout the body.
TBE incubation is 8 to 14 days after which the onset of symptoms is generally sudden and may consist of fever, severe headache, nausea and photophobia (intolerance of light). Some individuals go on to develop meningitis.
TBE is a spring-summer disease and skiers therefore are not affected.
How do I protect myself from TBE?
The Foreign Office advises that all travellers to TBE endemic regions seek inoculation advice from their local GP surgery or clinic.
There is a range of bite prevention measures you can also take which will help to reduce the risk of infection:
The risk of tick bites can be reduced by using an insect repellent that is effective against ticks. Such as Bens 100.
Avoid wearing shorts in rural or wooded areas, tuck trousers into socks, or cover all areas of exposed skin with protective clothing (though not always practical in summer climates).
Inspect your skin for ticks and remove as soon as possible by gripping the tick close to the head (not by the abdomen) and then pull straight out in an upward direction.
Avoid unpasteurised milk which may also be infected with the TBE virus in endemic countries.
The TBE inoculation cycle
The TBE vaccine consists of three doses. The first should be given on an elected date, the second between one and three months later and the third between five and 12 months after the second dose.
* If you need to achieve an immune response quickly, the second dose may be given two weeks after the first dose.
Where can you get TBE inoculation?
Vaccination is available at MASTA clinics, GP surgeries and healthcare centres.
Popular tourist destinations in Europe
Austria attracts the soft adventure traveller with walking and cycling holidays along the Danube, in Bohemia and the lower reaches of the Alps.
Croatia has seven national parks. Plitvice Lakes, close to the border with Bosnia Herzegovina is a World Heritage site with its 16 stunning blue-green lakes in forested mountains. The Kornati National Park is an archipelago of 140 islands of which just two are inhabited. Risnjak National Park in the Dinaric is popular with hikers and climbers.
Hiking - The Dinaric range in the north west of the country is popular with climbers because of their challenging karst climbs. The mountains between the Sava and Drava rivers are gentler and good for hiking. Cycling and mountain biking are also popular.
The hills and mountains of Southern Bohemia, Moravia and the Carpathians are used to create 'soft' walking and cycling discovery tours and 'harder' treks. The Sumava Mountains in the south west of the country are renowned for their beautiful forests, wild flowers, lakes, moors and peat bogs. Good for hiking, biking and skiing.
Hungary has a network of well-marked hiking trails in the hills and mountains. Areas to explore on foot include the Bukk and Mátra Hills near Eger where wild boar still live and the Zemplén Hills near Tokaj. Both sides of the Danube bend have good walking; Borzsony on the eastern has peaks of around 900 metres.
Hungary has a growing network of cycle paths and lots of dirt roads that are good for bikes. The most scenic regions are The Northern Uplands, the Danube Bend and around the Bakony. If you want flat terrain, try the Great Plain.
Poland’s 23 national parks and nature reserves offer a variety of hiking trails through different types of landscapes ranging from dunes, beaches, rivers and lakes to deep forests and high mountains. All the parks are open to visitors, though some may only be entered on foot and others, such as the Bialowieza National Park, may only be toured with a guide. Cycling tours (notably through the Great Mazurian Lake District) are offered by specialist tour operators. Mountain biking is popular in the Bieszczady and Karkonosze mountains.
Slovakia is an appealing destination for the adventure traveller and the Carpathian and Tatra mountain ranges provide good terrain for walking and trekking.
Europe’s longest cycling route passes through Slovakia, stretching from Passau in Germany along the Danube, through Vienna, Bratislava and on to Stúrovo. Cyclists can then continue their journey by taking a ferry across the Danube into Hungary. There is a very good network of marked trails in all mountain areas.
Slovenia’s terrain is well suited to the adventure travel market. Cycling along bicycle trails along the Alps and through the spa regions is becoming an increasingly popular and exciting way of seeing the country. Tours and routes for trekking in these regions are also widely available: there are around 7000km of marked trails.
Routes for hiking are on well laid-out paths in almost every part of the country. Cycling is a popular holiday recreation, particularly in the south.
The Swiss Alps, the Bernese Oberland and the Rhone combine to make the Swiss adventure travel product a varied one and ideal for walking and trekking, cycling and tour mountain biking. Hikers are well catered for with 50,000km of trails lead through all kinds of terrain.