TICK-BORNE ENCEPHALITIS (TBE)

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What is it

Tick-borne encephalitis, or TBE, is a viral disease that affects the brain and spinal cord.1
There are 3 sub-types of the virus that causes the disease:1

  1. European or Western TBE virus 
  2. Siberian TBE virus
  3. Far Eastern TBE virus

Who is at risk

TBE is found across Europe and Asia, spanning:2

  • Eastern France to Northern China and Japan 
  • Northern Russia to Albania

Ticks generally bite from April to November, with peak biting activity in early and late summer.2 

  • The risk is greater for people who travel to risk areas and:1
  • eat or drink unpasteurized milk or milk products

The risk is highest when hiking or camping in forested areas up to an altitude of about 1500 m.

What are the symptoms

Infection may induce an influenza-like illness followed, in about 30% of cases, by high fever and signs of central nervous involvement. Encephalitis developing during this second phase may result in paralysis, permanent sequelae or death. Severity of illness increases with age of the patient.2

How is it spread

TBE is spread through:1

  • the bite of an infected tick
    • bites are painless and often unnoticed
  • contaminated unpasteurized milk products from infected animals, which include
    • cows
    • sheep
    • goats

How is it prevented

Avoid tick bites1

Protect yourself from tick bites in high-risk regions when doing activities in forests or overgrown areas. You should:

  • wear closed-toe shoes, long-sleeved shirts and pants
  • pull your socks over pant legs
  • wear light-coloured clothes to spot ticks more easily
  • use insect repellent containing DEET (an active ingredient to keep bugs away) or Icaridin (always follow directions)
  • shower or bathe within 2 hours of being outdoors to wash away loose ticks
  • do a daily full-body check for ticks on yourself, children and pets
  • stay on designated hiking trails

Avoid unpasteurized milk and milk products

Infected cows, sheep and goats can transmit infection in their milk. However, pasteurization will minimize risk of infection from these products.

Vaccination

Recommended for High-risk individuals.2

How is it treated

There is no specific treatment for TBE. Only supportive care is used to help relieve symptoms.1

REFERENCES

  1. Government of Canada. Health. Diseases and Conditions. Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/tick-borne-encephalitis/treatment-tick-borne-encephalitis.html
  2. World Health Organization. International travel and health. Disease Information. Tick-borne encephalitis https://www.who.int/ith/diseases/tbe/en/