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

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
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.

“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

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