What we know as tick bites are not actually bites, since ticks do not bite; they sting. With the exception of the cantons of Geneva and Ticino, the whole of Switzerland is considered a risk area. The map of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) shows in detail where ticks occur.
They live in forests of the Central Plateau in the undergrowth, at forest edges, on forest clearings and also near rivers and in parks close to forests up to an altitude of about 1,500 metres above sea level.
Ticks become active as soon as it becomes warm and humid outside, so it is especially important to protect yourself outdoors from March to November.
Keep in mind the following when you are in a high-risk area:
Wear clothing that covers the entire body.
Ticks live on the ground, so children are more vulnerable because of their size and should wear something to cover their heads.
Use an anti-tick spray on shoes and the parts of the body that come into contact with grass and bushes.
Protect your dog or cat with an anti-tick product. Stay on wide paths and avoid contact with grass and bushes.
Check your clothing and uncovered body regularly; light-coloured clothing makes it easier to find ticks.
Check body and clothes for ticks at home. Check children’s heads especially carefully, and also pets. Ticks can suck blood anywhere on the body: they like warm, moist and thin areas of skin such as the back of the knees, groin, inner thigh, buttocks, neck and armpits. In children, ticks sometimes even sit at the hairline.
Please note: If you live in a risk area, a vaccination against meningitis (TBE) may be worthwhile.
Tick bites often go unnoticed, because the ticks release an anaesthetic when they bite. This is why the bite area rarely hurts or itches, giving the tick free rein to suck blood. Ticks fall off the bite area on their own once they’ve had their fill of blood. Tick bites are not always recognisable, often leaving only a small dark spot.
Removing ticks quickly and correctly
Remove ticks as quickly as possible with fine tweezers or tick tweezers (available in pharmacies). Grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible to avoid crushing the tick, then slowly twist the tweezers while pulling to remove the tick. Disinfect the bite area and note the date.
Detailed instructions with photos and videos are available in the Tick app.
When do you need to see a doctor?
Not every tick bite is dangerous. The first sign of an infection can be discolouration of the affected skin area. However, reddening of the skin does not necessarily mean there is an infection with a pathogen, nor does no redness necessarily mean there is no infection.
In the following cases, it is advisable to consult a doctor:
The head of the tick is stuck and the area has become infected. Sometimes the head tears off during removal. This is usually not a problem; only rarely does an infection develop.
The bite area becomes inflamed.
There is expanding rash. A circular rash appears a few days after the tick bite and continues to spread. This indicates Lyme disease.
You run a fever, have a headache or aching limbs and feel run down 5 to 14 days after removing the tick. These symptoms are typical for both TBE and Lyme disease.
In Switzerland, ticks transmit three main diseases:
Lyme disease is caused by bacteria. It is the most common tick-borne disease in Switzerland. A common sign of Lyme disease is the symptom of expanding rash that can appear 1 to 30 days after a tick bite. Lyme disease can be treated with antibiotics, but cannot be prevented by vaccination.
Meningitis is also known by the abbreviation TBE, which stands for tick-borne encephalitis. TBE is an inflammation of the brain and its lining. If a tick transmits the virus, it can lead to serious disease. TBE cannot be treated with antibiotics, but it can be prevented by vaccination.
Tularaemia (rabbit fever) is a bacterial infection. In Switzerland, about half of the cases are caused by tick bites. Although still rather rare, the number of tularaemia cases has increased in recent years. The signs and symptoms are varied and are reminiscent of flu or skin ulcers. Tularaemia can be treated with antibiotics, but cannot be prevented by vaccination.
The Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) recommends vaccination for all adults and children over the age of six who live or temporarily stay in risk areas. In Switzerland, this applies to all cantons except the cantons of Geneva and Ticino.
The vaccination costs around CHF 200 and is available at a doctor’s office or a pharmacy. The mandatory health insurance covers the costs of the vaccination if it is carried out by a doctor.
The ideal time for vaccination is winter, but it can be done all year round. Full immunisation requires three vaccination doses. The first two vaccinations are usually given one month apart. The third vaccination, which ensures long-term protection of at least 10 years, is given after 5 to 12 months, depending on the vaccine. The FOPH recommends a booster every 10 years.
The free app from the Zurich University of Applied Sciences provides information about protection against tick bites and what to do in the event of a tick bite: Apps area of Google Play Entertainment Mac App Store (apple.com)
Web page of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) on tick-borne diseases (admin.ch) (available in German, French and Italian)
Flyer about ticks in Switzerland (Federal Office for Civil Protection)
April through November: monthly situation report on tick-borne diseases (FOPH) (web page available in German, French and Italian)
Maps showing areas where vaccination is recommended (FOPH/Swisstopo)