What diseases are transmitted by ticks?

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a viral illness that can lead to inflammation of the brain, the meninges and/or the spinal cord.1

medizinische Illustration eines Zeckenstichs
Zecke steckt mit Kopf in Haut


Once the illness has broken out, it is not possible to treat the cause, only to alleviate the symptoms.1

Around 30 percent of people who become infected actually fall ill.

The time between being bitten by a tick and the disease breaking out (incubation period) varies between a few days and a month. The illness typically consists of two phases, with the first characterised by flu-like symptoms such as a high temperature, headache and aching limbs. The second phase then occurs after an interval of about a week without symptoms, when the disease attacks the central nervous system in around a third of the people infected.1

Three forms of the disease basically occur here, depending on the part of the brain and nervous system affected in each case:

1. meningitis
2. additional involvement of the brain (encephalitis)
3. additional involvement of the spinal cord (myelitis)

The symptoms depend on the severity of the disease: severe headache, a high temperature possibly over 40 degrees, a stiff neck, confusion and/or impaired consciousness. They may also be accompanied by signs of paralysis, seizures and gait or breathing disorders. Although major symptoms of the disease generally subside within 1 - 3 weeks, the convalescence period can be very lengthy – the consequences frequently include extensive hospitalisation, diminished ability to work and significant impairment of a patient’s quality of life (also known as post-encephalitic syndrome). Even if the course of the disease is not as severe, it may involve for example changes in the patient’s personality and/or poor concentration.2

Virtually everywhere in Austria is at risk of ticks.

Austria is one of the regions in Europe that is most affected by TBE.

Ticks carrying TBE viruses are found throughout the country, with all provinces reporting cases of the disease each year. The whole of Austria is thus known as a so-called endemic region, i.e. there is basically a risk of infection almost everywhere in Austria. This risk can also exist in areas that were previously free of TBE as the distribution of the disease is constantly changing.

While Carinthia and Styria have shown the greatest incidence of the disease, Upper Austria and Tyrol meanwhile register some of the highest number of cases each year. Vorarlberg, which for many years saw very few cases of TBE, is now reporting several instances of the illness on an annual basis.

Nor can it be ruled out that regions where the disease has not to date been detected will remain free of infection with the TBE virus.

Frau mit zwei Kindern wandert durch Waldlichtung
  1. Kaiser R. et al. Frühsommer Meningoenzephalitis (FSME), S1-Leitlinie, 2020, in: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Neurologie (publ.), Leitlinien für Diagnostik und Therapiein der Neurologie. Online: www.dgn.org/leitlinien (retrieved on 16.01.2024)
  2. Haglund M, Günther G. Tick-borne encephalitis—pathogenesis, clinical course and long-term follow-up. Vaccine. 2003 Apr 1;21 Suppl 1:S11-8. doi:10.1016/ s0264-410x(02)00811-3. PMID: 12628810.

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