Warning to Brits heading across the channel as cases of ‘brain swelling bug’ double – 5 signs to watch for

CASES of a deadly brain swelling bug that is spread to humans by tick bites have more than doubled in Switzerland, new figures have revealed.

The holiday hotspot, popular among outdoorsy types because of its vast mountains and tranquil lakes, has reported 27 cases of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) this year.


The disease carried by ticks can progress to affect the brain and central nervous systemCredit: Getty
Ticks are most active in Switzerland between March and November (Pictured: Brunni, Switzerland)


Ticks are most active in Switzerland between March and November (Pictured: Brunni, Switzerland)Credit: Alamy

In 2023, there were just eleven cases at the same time, data from the Swiss Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) suggests.

Infection rates have increased over the past five years, which the health body said was due to milder springs and winters.

The ticks favour warmer weather, which also “encourages more people to spend time outdoors”, where they are more likely to get bitter, the experts said.

Most people who catch the virus will have no or only mild flu-like symptoms.

However, the disease can progress to affect the brain and central nervous system and can sometimes be fatal.

Ticks can also carry other diseases that can make people ill, including Lyme disease.

The critters can be found in long grass all year round but are most active in Switzerland between March and November when the weather is warmer.

The risk is highest for those who participate in outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and mountain biking – all popular pastimes in the country, often dubbed the ‘playground of Europe’.

In Switzerland, the entire Central Plateau, the Alpine foothills, and canton Ticino are now considered high-risk areas for tick bites. 

In 2022, England recorded its first confirmed case of the infection, which was linked to the Yorkshire area.

Experts said at the time that the bug is likely to be present in other areas as the tick species that carries the virus is widespread in the UK.

Before then, the disease was only found in Europe, Russia, parts of China and Japan.

Do I need a vaccine?

Although Fit For Travel, run by the NHS, does not recommend the TBE vaccine for Switzerland, tourists can consider having a vaccine where the infection is common.

It involves two injections – which provide protection for about a year.

A third infection can offer protection for about three years – and you should have the first jab at least one month before travelling

The NHS advises that the risk of getting tick-borne encephalitis is very low.

The vaccine is not available on the NHS and costs £65 per injection.

The symotoms of tick-borne encephalitis & how to avoid it

Most people who catch the TBEV will have no or only mild flu-like symptoms.

But in some cases can affect the brain and central nervous system and can sometimes be fatal.

Symptoms of this are similar to other causes of meningitis, and can include:

  1. A high fever
  2. Headache
  3. Neck stiffness,
  4. Confusion
  5. Reduced consciousness

According to the Encephalitis Society, a charity which supports people affected by all types of encephalitis, fewer than two per cent of people die from the viral infection.

A vaccine is available privately for tick-borne encephalitis.

How to avoid tick-borne diseases

Long grass is generally where ticks will be, so playing in a park or on woodland paths shouldn’t be too risky.

But to be safe while out and about, consider wearing clothing that covers your skin to make it more difficult for ticks to bite you.

Use insect repellent such as DEET and wear light-coloured clothing so that you can easily spot ticks and brush them off.

After spending time outside, check yourself, your clothing, your pets and others for ticks.

Remove any attached tick when you find it using a tick-removal tool or fine-tipped tweezers.


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