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HEALTH

Ticks in Switzerland: How to avoid them and protect yourself

With 10,000 cases of Lyme disease per year, ticks have a case as the most dangerous animal in Switzerland.

Ticks in Switzerland: How to avoid them and protect yourself
Ticks are common in all parts of Austria, and can carry diseases. (Photo by Alfred Kenneally on Unsplash)

Switzerland is one of the world’s safer countries when it comes to animals. While there are wolves, vipers and the occasional bear, these are relatively rare and pose little danger to humans. 

One animal that might have a case as the most dangerous in Switzerland however is the tick

Ticks cause disease and are not just a threat to people with pets, while they are found all across the country. 

Where do you find ticks in Switzerland?

Ticks can be found all over Switzerland in forests, meadows, and long grass, meaning the biggest risk is when you’re out in nature – especially hiking, camping, or berry-picking – but they can also be found in urban areas, such as city parks or on the outskirts of towns and villages. 

According to the Swiss government, ticks can be found in 24 of Switzerland’s 26 cantons – i.e. all of them other than Ticino and Geneva. 

Ticks are active when the temperature is higher than around 5C, but are most common during the summer months. Tick season is roughly from March to October, with most bites occurring in summer.

What diseases can they cause?

The two main tick-borne diseases are Lyme disease and Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE).

Lyme disease (also called borrelia/borreliosis) causes no symptoms in around half of all people who catch it. For others, it can cause skin redness, headaches, and pain, and can attack the nervous system. Symptoms usually appear between two and six weeks after the bite, but can take longer.

READ MORE: Swiss health authorities raise alarm over rise in tick-borne disease

TBE is a viral brain infection, which can cause a range of symptoms, usually starting with typical flu-like symptoms and then developing to include nausea, dizziness, and in around a third of cases, severe problems. Symptoms usually appear around a week after the bite, but can take longer. There is no cure, but it can be treated, and there is a vaccination too.

Up to 50 percent of ticks carry Lyme disease, with around 10,000 people contracting it in Switzerland every year. 

Around one percent of ticks carry TBE. 


Ticks are tiny, but you should be able to spot them on your skin if you check carefully. Photo: Fredrik Sandberg/TT

How can I protect myself?

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

Because of the risk of Lyme disease, even if you’re up to date on your TBE vaccines, you should still do what you can to prevent ticks.

If you’ll be spending time in wooded areas with long grass, especially those known to have a high tick presence, take precautions like wearing long sleeved clothing and tucking trousers into socks.

Try to avoid brushing against long grasses by walking along the middle of the path where you can.

After returning home from a day out, you should check carefully yourself, your children and your pets for ticks and shower shortly after coming inside.

This can give you the chance to remove them before they bite, for example if you spot them on your clothes. Putting clothes in a tumble dryer for one hour should kill ticks.

The app provided by the Zurich University of Applied Sciences will help you protect yourself against tick bites or tell you what to do after a tick bite. It is available for iOS and Android.


An example of the redness caused by Lyme disease. Photo: Claudio Bresciani/SCANPIX/TT

What if I get bitten?

If you do get a tick, you should remove it safely. 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.

It can be done with a special tick remover (which you should be able to buy at most Swiss pharmacies) or tweezers. Some hikers have told us they also go to the doctor or the pharmacy to have the tick properly removed. 

The important thing is making sure you remove the whole tick, by grabbing it as close to the skin as possible and pulling slowly. If you just grab the body, there is the chance you will pull it out without removing the head. 

Then, wash and clean the bite, and contact a doctor if you’re worried, especially if you experience symptoms of illness in the weeks after being bitten.


Photo: Staffan Claesson/Scanpix/TT

How can I get a TBE vaccine?

Vaccinations are recommended for those living in areas with TBE-infested ticks, and/or who spend a lot of time out in forests.

You get three doses within the first year (or four if you’re over 50), each one increasing the level of protection, another dose after three years and then will need top-ups every five years.

Because you need several doses to be fully protected, it’s recommended that you begin the vaccination programme well ahead of tick season.

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For members

HEALTH INSURANCE

What isn’t covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Switzerland’s basic health insurance is among the most expensive in the world, but there are certain services it doesn’t pay for. Here are some of the benefits the scheme won’t cover in full.

What isn't covered by Switzerland’s compulsory health insurance?

Basic insurance — KVG in German and LaMal in French and Italian —  is compulsory in Switzerland. It doesn’t come cheap, but it is quite comprehensive and includes coverage for illness, medications, tests, maternity, physical therapy, preventive care, and many other treatments.

It also covers accidents for those who do not have accident insurance through their workplace.

Basically, whatever the doctor orders is covered by KVG / LaMal, at least partially.

READ MORE: Everything you need to know about health insurance in Switzerland

However, there are some treatments the basic insurance won’t pay for.

Experimental treatments

Any experimental treatments or drugs — that is, those not approved by the Swissmedic regulatory agency or the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH) will not be covered.

This exclusion is not specifically Swiss; insurance schemes is most countries won’t cover unauthorised medical treatment either.

Dental care

In most cases, services such as teeth cleaning, dental fillings, root canals, tooth extractions, and orthodontic braces, are not included under basic insurance.

The only exceptions, according to the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), are dental interventions “necessitated by a serious disorder of the masticatory system, or if such treatment is required to support and ensure the success of medical treatment for a severe general disorder (e.g. leukaemia, heart-valve replacement)”.

Most dental treatments are not covered. Photo by Pixabay

Eyeglasses and contact lenses

Compulsory health insurance will contribute up to 180 francs per year towards glasses and contact lenses prescribed by an ophthalmologist for children up to the age of 18.

No such benefit exist for adults. However, “in the case of serious visual impairment or certain illnesses (e.g. disease-related refraction abnormalities, postoperative alterations or corneal disease), compulsory health insurance will, regardless of age, make higher contributions towards medically prescribed spectacle and contact lenses”, FOPH says.

READ MORE: Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Ambulance

Emergency vehicles that transport you to a hospital can be quite expensive — depending on the canton, the costs can range from 900 to 2,000 francs per trip. 

Basic health insurance will contribute a certain amount  to the cost of emergency transportation, but only if it is a medical necessity — a serious accident, an illness, or a life-threatening situation. But if the patient could have travelled by private car or public transport, basic health insurance policies will pay nothing.

Insurance will cover some of the cost of ambulance transport only in emergency. Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP

Private hospital room

While the cost of your hospitalisation will be fully covered, the basic insurance does not pay for a private room.

You will be accommodated in a room with other patients.

Depending on a medical facility — whether it’s a small hospital or a large, university medical centre, you could end up with just one other person or possibly four or five, the latter being common in teaching hospitals.

If you insist on a private accommodation, you will have to pay for it out of your own pocket.

Reader question: Can Swiss health insurance exclude me if I have pre-existing conditions?

Vaccines

Immunisations outlined by FOPH  will be paid for by insurance, as will the Covid vaccine.

Not covered, however, are travel-related vaccinations or preventive measures, such as against yellow fever or malaria.

Treatment abroad

Outside Switzerland, only emergency care is covered  — double the amount that the same treatment would cost in Switzerland.

Usually, basic health insurance will not cover transportation costs back to Switzerland, except in case of emergency, when it will cover 50 percent of the total cost of transportation to the nearest hospital abroad — but no more than 500 francs per year. 

If you only have a basic insurance policy and travel abroad often, especially to the United States, you should take out a travel insurance that will cover you for illness and accidents in foreign countries above and beyond what your Swiss carrier will pay.

And if you want to upgrade your treatment options, consider taking out a supplemental insurance or, if you can afford it, private one.

READ MORE: Should you buy supplemental health insurance in Switzerland?

You can find out more about what KVG / LaMal will and will not cover here.

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