Dealing with ticks

by Christina Geyer on May 19, 2008 · 9 comments

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If it’s summer, it’s tick season. I’ve already found three ticks on Charlie this week.

In Germany, when it comes to tick-borne diseases, you mostly need to worry about Frühsommer-Meningoenzephalitis (FSME) known in English as tick-borne meningoencephalitis (for folks who can read German, the Frühsommer-Meningoenzephalitis Wikipedia article is much more informative) and Borreliose (Lyme disease).

There is a vaccination against FSME available in Europe. You should check with your family doctor about whether it is recommended for you. It cannot be taken by pregnant women and some doctors do not recommend it for children under 6, although our pediatrician recommends it for children over 2.

FSME spread in Germany

FSME risk areas in Germany

In the above map, red denotes a risk area, where people are encouraged to get the FSME-Impfung, and yellow, where isolated cases of FSME have been reported to the Robert Koch Institute. Want a closer look or don’t live in Germany? Here is an interactive map of the spread of FSME in Europe. The page is in German, but you can zoom in on your location to see if it’s affected.

How to protect yourself:

  • Avoid high grass and underbrush
  • Wear light-colored clothing, it’s easier to identify a tick if one is on you
  • Limit skin exposure through long sleeves and long pants
  • Wear long pant legs tucked into socks
  • Stay near the center of hiking trails to avoid brushing against low vegetation as much as possible
  • Use tick repellent: Stiftung Warentest recommends Anti Brumm Naturel as satisfactory, followed by Autan Family Care Zeckenschutz and Quartet Anti Zecke Hautspray.
  • Check yourself and your children daily and remove ticks promptly. Ticks should be removed within the first 12 hours. Ticks prefer warm, moist areas, so be sure to carefully check armpits and genital areas along with the head. To remove ticks from humans, Zeckenkarte, or tick cards, are recommended. Don’t try to burn or drown the tick in alcohol or oil while it is attached, this can cause it to regurgitate into the wound, raising the risk of infection.

How to protect your pets:

  • Talk to your veterinarian
  • Check your pet’s coat daily for ticks and remove them promptly. Ticks should be removed within the first 12 hours. To remove ticks from animals, I highly recommend the O’Tom Tick Twister (you can buy the O’Tom Zeckenhaken online at or at your local pet shop, and here’s a video demonstrating how to remove a tick with it). After you remove the tick, you should make sure it is dead and not just release it back in to the wild. You can burn it, drown it in oil or alcohol, or squish it in a paper towel.
  • Use tick-prevention medication like Exspot or Frontline.

For more info:

Do you have any advice for dealing with ticks?

  • Maribeth

    The ticks are terrible here in New Hampshire too. I get up and braid my hair, each day and I constantly check myself, and Hubby and all 4 dogs! I hate ticks!!!

    Maribeths last blog post..This & That On A Spring Weekend

  • Hezamarie

    I was told that if you feed your dog every other day a clove garlic, it should help repel ticks. But still I would rely on the brushing method.

    Hezamaries last blog post..a German take on American food

  • Christina G

    @maribeth: I hate ticks too. I wish they either weren’t so numerous or didn’t carry scary diseases!

    @hezamarie: I’ve never heard that, but since Charlie ate half a red onion this morning when it fell out of the fridge, I might give it a try (in addition to Exspot)!

  • Ann

    I keep finding myself going back and reading your info about ticks (great resource, BTW). So, I went to my girls pediatrician and asked about the vaccination – I think we’re all going to get it, did you all? I didn’t realize just how bad the ticks are in the Regensburg area until a friend of mine said she finds one at least once a week on someone in her family. YUCK!!!! 😉

  • Patricia Dair

    Thanks so much for your posting! I was expat in Tuebingen from 1990-97, and romped through lots of tick-bearing bushes. My two children had a single vaccine dosage in 2002 and are now showing possible FSME or Lyme symptoms. Is there a test that is recommended there, to determine or differentiate exposure or antibodies from the vaccine? They spend their summers in Germany, always glad to be there.

  • Christina Geyer

    @ann: Sorry! I don’t think I got a notice about your comment. We haven’t gotten vaccinated. Rainer and I should, the day I went I had a fever though and they said to come back. We’re going to wait till next year with Oliver. The doc said with toddlers the worst that usually happens would be a week in the hospital, whereas with adults it’s a serious illness. Actually though, I rarely find ticks on us. Have only found one this summer so far.

    @patricia: I don’t know of a test. I do know the vaccine is given every year, so I’m not sure they would still have a lot of antibodies in their system from a vaccine given in 2002.

  • Saskia

    I just noticed this posting, but since I’ve had a personal experience with it, I thought I’d make a comment now, for the people who re-read your posting next year.

    I got Borelliose (Lyme Disease) two and a half years ago. I got it in the Munich area and never saw the tick. I was very pregnant (7 or 8 months) and was bitten on the back of my knee, so it’s not surprising that I never saw the tick. I had a very high fever and body aches and went to the doctor, who thought it had to do with my pregnancy. At that point, I hadn’t found the tick bite yet, though I had a “weird mosquito bite on the back of my knee that wouldn’t go away”. After 5 days of feeling miserable (and caring for an 18-month-old), I finally felt well enough to wear shorts again, and when I did, I saw the bullseye rash on the back of my knee. I then knew this was no normal mosquito bite. I googled Lyme Disease, and saw lots of images of the same bullseye rash. I don’t know why I suspected it might be Lyme Disease because at that point, I didn’t know it even existed in Germany.

    I went to the hospital, but they wouldn’t treat me because I was pregnant and that particular hospital didn’t have a gynecologist. So I was sent to a special hospital, where the gynecologists saw me, checked that the baby was ok (he was) and then sent me with a note the dermatologist at the hospital, telling him which antibiotic would be ok to give me.

    The man took one look at my leg and said “spider bite” and gave me some cream to put on it. I didn’t believe him and asked if I could come back the next day for a second opinion, which I did, and the second opinion was that it was a spider bite.

    I then went to a dermatologist in my town a week later, and he also said it was a spider bite.

    I was furious because by that point, I’d done a ton of research and was sure I had Lyme Disease. Another week later, I went to my regular pregnancy check-up with my gynecologist, and told her the story. She asked if I’d had a blood test (no), so she ordered one. Two days later, she called me and told me that I urgently needed to start taking Amoxycillin.

    Treating Lyme Disease in its early stages is very important because if you don’t, you can end up with life long terrible arthritis. I know because it happened to my cousin. There is no vaccine for Lyme Disease. Please, if you exhibit the symptoms (do research for all of them, but similar to flu symptoms – in the summer), beg for a blood test!

  • Christina Geyer

    @saskia: Thanks for adding your experience. I’m sure it’ll help other expats in similar situations. German doctors can be pushy and that can be really intimidating when you’ve just moved over.

  • gabby – dog ticks

    thanks for this information, it sure helps. natural ways of brushing methods could be effective too
    .-= gabby – dog ticks´s last blog ..Two Common Symptoms Of Dog Skin Problems =-.

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