Tick season in Switzerland: What expats need to know
As the weather in Switzerland improves and the school holidays beckon, the start of spring and summer means the emergence of something else: tick season in Switzerland has begun. Ticks are common throughout Switzerland, and despite their small size, they can transmit harmful diseases. Here’s where you can find ticks in Switzerland and how you can protect yourself.
Where can you find ticks in Switzerland?
Along with their unsightly appearance, ticks have the potential to transmit deadly diseases to hikers and people who work outside. Ticks awake from their hibernation as the warm weather starts, making tick bites most common between March and when the weather cools in October and November.
Ticks are found throughout Switzerland, from St. Gallen in the east to Geneva in the west. Luckily, ticks are usually not found above 1.500 metres, making a tick encounter in the Swiss mountains highly unlikely. Bear in mind that ticks are not just found in forests, but in fields, meadows, gardens and cities.
What diseases do ticks carry?
Climate change has meant that ticks have spread to more and more parts of Switzerland, with the vice-president of the League for Ticks in Switzerland warning that the number of tick bites and reports of Lyme disease and tick-borne encephalitis have increased dramatically over the last five years.
Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that typically causes flu-like symptoms and a target shaped rash around the tick bite, but it is usually easy to treat if caught early. If you have the following symptoms in the three weeks after a tick bite, you should seek medical attention:
- Flu-like symptoms
- Joint pain or headache
Lyme disease is prevalent among all tick populations in Switzerland, with between 6.000 and 12.000 cases reported in the alpine nation every year, according to the Federal Office for Public Health. The Zurich University of Applied Sciences has also created an app for mobile phones called Zeck, which shows you where tick bites have been recorded.
Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE)
Unlike Lyme disease, Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) can only be found in a few select areas. According to the International Association For Medical Assistance To Travellers, the following regions have reported cases of TBE:
- Canton Schaffhausen - Hallau, Osterfingen, Stein am Rhein
- Canton Zurich - Unteres, Glatt Valley, Eglisau, Ellikon am Rhein, Ossingen, Rheinau, Horgen
- Canton Bern - Erlenbach, Thun, Steffisburg, Spiez, Grosses Moos, Belp
- Canton Graubünden - Grüsch, Seewis, Landquart
The disease typically leads to flu-like symptoms, but in rare cases can result in a more serious infection, manifesting itself as meningitis.
How to protect yourself against ticks in Switzerland
Ticks prefer warm and wet weather, so be on the lookout for them if you are in the countryside during the summer, especially if it has rained recently. Long grass, meadows, forests and verges are favourite spots for ticks, who lie in wait for passing humans and animals.
The best protection against tick bites is to prevent them entirely. Wearing long-sleeved shirts and trousers when walking in tall grass and wearing insect repellent can prevent tick bites. When you get back home, always check to see if any ticks have bitten you, your pets or your family.
How to remove a tick
If you find a tick has bitten you, don’t panic! So long as you remove the critter carefully, there shouldn't be a problem. The best thing to do is to use tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin’s surface as possible and apply steady upward pressure until the tick is removed, then wash the bite area thoroughly and dispose of the tick without crushing it.
Never try to crush a tick with your fingers or scratch the tick off, as this may lead to excess parts of the tick being stuck in the skin. If you start to develop a rash or fever within three weeks of removing the tick, see your doctor.
Ticks shouldn't spoil exploring the Swiss countryside
Of course, these tiny critters shouldn’t dissuade you from exploring and having fun in the great outdoors. While it may be something to consider, ticks shouldn’t take away from enjoying and having fun in the Swiss wilderness.