Ticks in Spain, what can you do?

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ticks

The spread of ticks in Spain is becoming worrying, partly due to climate change and changing ecological conditions. These factors contribute to the exponential growth of tick populations. This also means more risk for both people and animals.

This year, ticks, known to carry various diseases, have already been spotted in Spain a month earlier than ‘normal‘. Ticks find suitable conditions for survival and reproduction earlier and for longer due to warmer temperatures and milder winters. Other pests, such as mosquitoes and cockroaches, also thrive in these conditions.

The problem starts earlier in the year

Short winters and the early onset of warmer temperatures allow ticks to start their activities earlier in the year. In many areas of inland Spain, it has rained a lot, which means there is a lot of herbaceous and shrubby vegetation where they thrive. Especially in those areas where wild animals occur, such as rabbits, deer and roe deer, and livestock such as herds of goats, sheep and other animals including horses. This leads to a greater risk of tick bites over a longer period of the year and in a more extensive area. In addition, the increase in host animals such as wild boars and rabbits contributes to the expansion of tick populations.

Diseases that ticks can transmit

It is critical to prevent tick bites due to the risk of transmitting disease. Among the most notable diseases that can be transmitted by ticks are:

Rickettsiosis

Rickettsiosis is a group of infectious diseases caused by bacteria of the genus Rickettsia. These bacteria are mainly transmitted by ticks, fleas, lice and mites. Rickettsiosis can cause several symptoms, including fever, headache, muscle aches, and rash. In some cases, symptoms can be more severe and lead to complications such as damage to blood vessels, organs and the central nervous system.

Lyme disease

An infectious disease transmitted to humans by tick bites. The first symptoms (within days to weeks of the tick bite) often include a red, gradually spreading rash around the bite site. Other early symptoms may include fever, headache, fatigue, and muscle and joint pain. If Lyme disease is not treated early with antibiotics, the infection can spread to the joints, heart, and nervous system, leading to more serious symptoms and complications. Chronic Lyme can persist for months or even years after infection and is a controversial and complex topic within the medical community.

Anaplasmosis

A disease caused by the bacterium Anaplasma phagocytophilum. This bacterium mainly infects the white blood cells of humans and animals. The symptoms of anaplasmosis usually begin within 1-2 weeks after the tick bite. Common symptoms include fever, headache, muscle pain, fatigue, and chills. In severe cases, the infection can lead to complications such as a severe drop in white blood cells, platelets (which help blood clotting), and liver problems.

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Babesiosis

Babesiosis is an infectious disease caused by parasites of Babesia, infecting red blood cells. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, fatigue, headache, anaemia, and jaundice.

Crimean-Congo fever

The symptoms usually start suddenly with high fever, headache, back pain, joint pain, stomach pain, and vomiting. After the initial symptoms, more serious signs such as rapid heartbeat, enlarged lymph nodes, and a rash on the body may appear. As the disease progresses, patients may experience severe bleeding, such as nosebleeds, bleeding from the gums, and bleeding in the internal organs.

Read also: Alarm about Crimean-Congo fever: 12 cases detected in Spain

Precautionary measures

“We are increasingly in rural areas, especially since the pandemic, so when we go outside, we must be careful. Sometimes in areas where sheep, cows and other wild animals live, we can find ticks and we have to be careful not to bring them home, ourselves or with our pets,” emphasises Jorge Galván of the Spanish Association for Environmental Health (ANECPLA). After visiting a natural environment, it is important to thoroughly check both yourself and your pets for ticks. Ticks look for places with a lot of blood circulation, such as behind the ears and in the back of the knees.

Some effective prevention methods are:
  • Wear protective clothing: Long sleeves and trousers provide physical barriers against ticks.
  • Use insect repellent: Products containing DEET can be effective in repelling ticks.
  • Remove ticks carefully: If you find a tick on your skin, remove it immediately with tweezers. Gently pull the tick straight out of the skin to avoid leaving parts of the tick behind and causing infection.

Integrated approach necessary

Experts such as Jorge Galván point out the importance of an integrated approach to tackle the factors contributing to the increase in ticks. This includes not only personal protection but also controlling host animal populations and monitoring tick activity.

Also read: Ticks are becoming a summer pest in Spain

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