Tick vaccination: what you need to know

Find out who should get the tick vaccination, what is covered by your health insurance and how to avoid tick bites. We answer the most common questions about tick vaccination.

31.03.2021

Lara Brunner

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is also known as meningitis. The infectious disease is caused by a bite from an infected tick. They transfer the TBE virus to humans. The tick vaccination, or TBE vaccination, protects against an infection.

How widespread is TBE in Switzerland?

TBE is a notifiable infectious disease. This means that sound studies on the development of cases are available. According to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), there were 455 cases in 2020. This number had always been lower in previous years. The incidence was 5.16. This means that in 2020, 5.16 in 100,000 people were infected.

How does tick-borne encephalitis progress?

The disease has two distinct phases. In the days immediately after being infected, patients present flu-like symptoms such as a fever or aching limbs. Up to 15% of patients then experience a period during which they have no symptoms, after which the flu-like symptoms recur. At that point, one of the following may be observed:

  • Meningitis – inflammation of the membrane enclosing the brain and spinal cord
  • Meningoencephalitis – inflammation of the brain membranes and tissue
  • Meningoencephalomyelitis or meningoradiculitis – inflammation of the brain and spinal cord tissue

A small number of patients also experience paralysis in their arms, legs or facial muscles. The disease is fatal in around 1% of cases.

Who should get the tick or TBE vaccination?

In Switzerland, the tick vaccination is recommended for anyone who lives close to a risk area or is likely to spend time near one. Over the past few years, the areas where people have been infected with the virus have steadily expanded. This is why the whole of Switzerland – except the cantons of Geneva and Ticino – is considered a risk area.

You need three vaccination shots in order to be fully protected. The first two are usually carried out within one to three months of each other. Depending on the vaccine used, you will need to have a third injection five to twelve months after the second vaccination.

Please note: tick vaccination only protects against tick-borne encephalitis (TBE); it does not prevent Lyme disease.

Progression and symptoms of Lyme disease

From what age can children be vaccinated against ticks?

The FOPH recommends the tick vaccination for children from the age of six.

How often do I need a vaccination booster?

You need to have regular booster injections to stay protected from TBE. The Federal Office of Public Health recommends a vaccination booster once every ten years.

When is the best time to be vaccinated?

Ticks become active as the weather gets warmer and humidity levels rise. So TBE tends to occur in the early summer. That means winter is the best time to get a tick vaccination in Switzerland.

Does the vaccination have any side effects?

Some people experience side effects after a tick vaccination. Side effects are not necessarily a bad thing: they show that your immune system has begun to generate antibodies to protect you from TBE.

Common side effects:

  • Discomfort around the site of the injection
  • Headaches
  • Fever

Other side effects:

  • Swelling around the site of the injection
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Agitation
  • Aching muscles and joints

Rare side effects:

  • Swelling of the lymph glands

If the side effects do not ease after a day or two, you should consult your doctor.

Does the health insurance company pay for the tick vaccination?

The costs for the TBE vaccination are covered by statutory health insurance, as long as you live in an area with a vaccination recommendation (whole of Switzerland, excluding Geneva and Ticino) or are staying there temporarily.

Good to know

For payment of costs by basic insurance, the vaccination must be carried out by a doctor. The costs for a tick vaccination in a pharmacy are not covered by basic insurance.

How can I protect myself against tick bites?

Taking a few simple precautions can massively reduce the likelihood of being bitten.

  • Wear long trousers, long sleeves and sturdy shoes. For added protection, you can tuck your trousers into your socks.
  • Wear light-coloured clothing: it makes it easier to spot ticks.
  • Spray your skin and clothes with insect repellent.
  • Avoid walking through brush, bushes and tall grass.

Check your body and clothes after a walk. Young ticks are tiny and look a bit like spiders, so watch out for them too.

How to remove ticks safely

Conclusion

There are a number of protective measures that lower the risk of getting bitten by a tick. However, they are not 100% fool proof. This is why the FOPH recommends the tick vaccination for everyone from the age of six who lives in a risk area (whole of Switzerland, excluding the cantons of Geneva and Ticino), or who regularly stays there. In total, three vaccinations are required. A booster is recommended every ten years.

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