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HEALTH

Ticks are proliferating in Spain: How to avoid them and protect yourself

The presence of ticks in Spain has skyrocketed recently, with experts urging extreme precaution. Here's everything you need to know, from where you need to watch out for them, what to do if you get bitten and how to protect yourself against them.

Ticks are proliferating in Spain: How to avoid them and protect yourself
Everything you need to know about ticks in Spain. Image: Erik Karits / Pixabay

“Veterinarians and doctors from all over Spain have been warning for a long time about an increase in cases of tick bites”, Spain’s National Association of Environmental Health Companies (Anecpla) said in a recent statement.

“And it is not surprising, since the tick population has exploded in our country in recent years and doesn’t stop growing”, it continued.

Director general of Anecpla, Milagros Fernández de Lezeta added that “it’s important that residents are aware of the risks that ticks can pose and that they realise that this summer the risk is not only in the countryside, but also in environments that we frequent regularly on our vacations such as the beach or the swimming pool”.

Where do you need to watch out for ticks this summer?

There are 20 different species of ticks found in Spain. They primarily live in forests, meadows, and long grass, but can also live in kennels or around pets. You are especially at risk from a tick bite in nature while hiking or camping, but they are increasingly being found in urban areas too such as parks and at the beach too.

While you should be aware of ticks across Spain summer, there are some places in particular, where you should take extra precautions. These include:

Zaragoza

The city of Zaragoza was one of the first to note the rapid rise in ticks this year after an alert from the Official College of Veterinarians of Zaragoza, who said they found tick cases in 95.8 percent of the veterinary practices in the city. Since then, the mayor’s office has carried out a disinfection campaign in a total of 17 green areas.  

Luis Javier Yus, manager of the Official College of Veterinarians of Zaragoza told El Periódico de Aragón that the tick season was lasting longer in recent years because of climate change. “Now they start in March and can last until October, when before their usual period was from April to June or July”, he said. 

Murcia

In Murcia, the Official College of Veterinarians has also sounded the alarm because of the recent increase in ticks. It has even developed an information program with the aim of raising awareness about the risk of ticks and their bites.

Madrid

Many ticks have also been found recently in the green areas of Madrid, particularly around Leganés. The City Council claims to have sent specialists to inspect the areas but has said: “it was not a plague” and, therefore, they could not fumigate for legal reasons.

Castellón and Alicante

The Valencian provinces of Castellón and Alicante have also been affected by ticks this season. Several farmers complained that this year they have found not only ticks in rural areas and fields, but also in urban areas.  

Pontevedra

The province of Pontevedra in Galicia has also reported a rise in the number of cases due to tick bites, according to the Diario de Pontevedra.

What to do if you find a tick on you? Image: Catkin / Pixabay

Symptoms and illnesses

In Spain, ticks can cause three main diseases – Lyme disease, tick-borne encephalitis or TBE and Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever or CCHF.

A tick bite is not in itself dangerous to humans, but the health risks depend on the possibility of contracting infections transmitted by these creatures.

Lyme disease (also called borreliosis) causes no symptoms in around half of all people who catch it. For others, however, it can cause rashes, a fever, headaches, muscle and joint pain, and tiredness. The rash may look like a bullseye on a dartboard with a darker or lighter area in the centre. It usually appears within one to four weeks after being bitten, but may take as long as three months.

TBE is a viral brain infection, which can cause several different symptoms. It begins with fever, fatigue, headache, muscular ache, and nausea and then begins to attack the neurological system with symptoms of meningitis such as inflammation of the brain or spinal cord. Symptoms typically appear around a week after the bite, but can take longer. There is no cure, but it can be treated, and there is a vaccine against it too.

CCHF can come on very suddenly. Initial symptoms can include headache, high fever, back pain, joint pain, stomach pain, and vomiting. Red eyes, face and throat and spots on your palate are also common. The disease has a 30 percent death rate without treatment. 

How to avoid ticks

The Spanish government’s Ministry of Health suggests that if you are going out in rural areas with long grass to wear long sleeves and long trousers and avoid wearing sandals. They also suggest that you wear light-colored clothing so the ticks will be easier to see and to avoid contact with the surrounding vegetation.

Upon returning home, they say that you should check yourself carefully, take a shower and wash your clothes with hot water. It’s important to check your pets for ticks too.

Lyme disease has no vaccine but can be treated, while TBE cannot be cured but both a vaccine and treatments are available.

What do I do if I find a tick on me?

If you do find a tick on you, you need to make sure you remove it safely, so that the head does not get stuck inside your body. The sooner you can do this, the lower the risk that it will be able to infect you with Lyme disease as it can take up to 24 hours for the bacteria to be transferred.

According to the Ministry of Health, you should remove the tick as soon as possible. They advise avoiding traditional remedies such as oil, petroleum or heat and to use tweezers instead. Try to avoid crushing them and hold them firmly, as close as possible to the skin, and gently pull upwards. When it’s removed, you should clean the wound with soap and water or apply an antiseptic.

Contact a doctor if you have experienced any symptoms after being bitten.

Spanish vocabulary

Tick – garrapatas

Tweezers – pinzas

Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever – fiebre de Crimea-Congo

Lyme disease – enfermedad de Lyme

Tick-borne encephalitis – encefalitis por garrapatas

READ ALSO: What to do and what to avoid if you witness a forest fire in Spain

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MONEY

Rampant branch closures and job cuts help Spain’s banks post huge earnings

Spain’s biggest banks this week reported huge profits in 2021 and cheered their return to recovery post-Covid, but ruthless cost-cutting in the form of thousands of layoffs, hundreds of branch closures and the removal of many ATMs have left customers in Spain suffering, in this latest example of ‘Capitalismo 2.0’. 

A man withdraws cash from a Santander branch in Madrid.
More than 3,500 Santander workers lost their jobs in Spain in 2021 and a further 2,000 more employees working for Santander across Europe were also laid off. Photo: PHILIPPE DESMAZES / AFP

Spanish banking giant Santander on Wednesday said it has bounced back from the pandemic as it returned to profit last year, beating analyst expectations and exceeding its pre-COVID earnings.

Likewise, Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA said on Thursday that it saw a strong rebound in 2021 following the Covid crisis, tripling its net profits thanks to a recovery in business activity.

It’s a similar story for Unicaja (€137 million profit in 2021), Caixabank (€5.2 billion profit thanks to merge with Bankia), Sabadell (€530 million profit last year), Abanca (€323 million profit) and all of Spain’s other main banks.

This may be promising news for Spain’s banking sector, but their profits have come at a cost for many of their employees and customers. 

In 2021, 19,000 bank employees lost their jobs, almost all through state-approved ERE layoffs, meant for companies struggling financially.

BBVA employees protest against layoffs in May 2021 in Madrid. Spain’s second-largest bank BBVA is looking to shed 3,800 jobs, affecting 16 percent of its staff, in a move denounced by unions as “scandalous”. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP)

Around 11 percent of bank branches in Spain have also been closed down in 2021 as part of Spanish banks’ attempts to cut costs, even though they’ve agreed to pay just under €5 billion in compensation.

Rampant branch closures have in turn resulted in 2,200 ATMs being removed since the Covid-19 pandemic began, even though the use of cajeros automáticos went up by 20 percent in 2021.

There are now 48,300 ATMs in Spain, levels not seen since 2001.

READ MORE:

Apart from losses caused by the coronavirus crisis, Spain’s financial institutions have justified the lay-offs, branch closures and ATM removals under the premise that there was already a shift to online banking taking place among customers. 

But the problem has been around for longer in a country with stark population differences between the cities and so-called ‘Empty Spain’, with rural communities and elderly people bearing the brunt of it. 

 

Caixabank laid off almost 6,500 workers in the first sixth months of 2021. Photo: ANDER GILLENEA/AFP

Just this month, a 78-year-old Valencian man has than collected 400,000+ signatures in an online petition calling for Spanish banks to offer face-to-face customer service that’s “humane” to elderly people, spurring the Bank of Spain and even Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez to publicly say they would address the problem.

READ MORE: ‘I’m old, not stupid’ – How one Spanish senior is demanding face-to-face bank service

It’s worth noting that between 2008 and 2019, Spain had the highest number of branch closures and bank job cuts in Europe, with 48 percent of its branches shuttered compared with a bloc-wide average of 31 percent.

Below is more detailed information on how Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, have reported their huge profits in 2021.

Santander

Driven by a strong performance in the United States and Britain, the bank booked a net profit of €8.1 billion in 2021, close to a 12-year high. 

It was a huge improvement from 2020 when the pandemic hit and the bank suffered a net loss of €8.7 billion after it was forced to write down the value of several of its branches, particularly in the UK. It was also higher than 2019, when the bank posted a net profit of €6.5 billion.

Analysts from FactSet were expecting profits of €7.9 billion. 

“Our 2021 results demonstrate once again the value of our scale and presence across both developed and developing markets, with attributable profit 25 per cent higher than pre-COVID levels in 2019,” said chief executive Ana Botin in a statement.

Net banking income, the equivalent to turnover, also increased, reaching €33.4 billion, compared to €31.9 billion in 2020. This dynamic was made possible by a strong increase in customer numbers, with the group now counting almost 153 million customers worldwide. 

“We have added five million new customers in the last 12 months alone,” said Botin.

Santander performed particularly well in Europe and North America, with profits doubling in constant euros compared to 2020. In the UK, where Santander has a strong presence, current profit even “quadrupled” over the same period to €1.6 billion.

Last year’s net loss was the first in Banco Santander’s history, after having to revise downwards the value of several of its subsidiaries, notably in the UK, because of COVID.

The banking giant, which cut nearly 3,500 jobs at the end of 2020, in September announced an interim shareholder payout of €1.7 billion for its 2021 results. “In the coming weeks, we will announce additional compensation linked to the 2021 results,” it said.

BBVA

The group, which mainly operates in Spain but also in Latin America, Mexico and Turkey, posted profits of €4.65 billion ($5.25 billion), up from €1.3 billion a year earlier.

The result, which followed a solid fourth quarter with profits of €1.34 billion, was higher than expected, with FactSet analysts expecting a figure of €4.32 billion .

Excluding non-recurring items, such as the outcome of a restructuring plan launched last year, it generated profits of 5.07 billion euros in what was the highest figure “in 10 years”, the bank said in a statement.

In 2020, the Spanish bank saw its net profit tumble 63 percent as a result of asset depreciation and provisions taken against an increase in bad loans due to the economic fallout of the virus crisis.

“The economic recovery over the past year has brought with it a marked upturn in banking activity, mainly in the loan portfolio,” the bank explained, pointing to a reduction of the provisions put in place because of Covid.

In 2021, BBVA added a “record” 8.7 million new customers, largely due to the growth of its online activities. It now has 81.7 million customers worldwide.

The group’s net interest margins also rose 6.1 percent year-on-year to €14.7 billion, said the bank, which is undergoing a cost-cutting drive.

So far, it has axed 2,935 jobs and closed down 480 branches as the banking sector undergoes increasing digitalisation and fewer and fewer transactions are carried out over the counter.

At the end of 2020, BBVA sold its US unit to PNC Financial Services for nearly 10 billion euros and decided to reinvest some of the funds in the Turkish market.

In November, it launched a bid to take full control of its Turkish lending subsidiary Garanti, offering €2.25 billion ($2.6 billion) to buy the 50.15 percent stake it does not yet own.

The deal should be finalised in the first quarter of 2022.

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