Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE)

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a viral infection spread to humans by the bite of a small spider-like parasite called a tick. Infected ticks live in certain parts of Europe and Asia, also in the Netherlands. In 2016, the virus was first found in ticks in the Netherlands. Nevertheless, the risk of catching the disease here is rather small as only a small number of ticks carry the TBE virus. (In contrast: many ticks in the Netherlands carry the bacterium that causes Lyme disease). Drinking unpasteurised milk and eating unpasteurised dairy products from infected animals, particularly goats, can also expose you to the TBE virus. However, this is rare.

TBE sub-types

The TBE virus can be divided into three sub types: European or Western tick-borne encephalitis virus, Siberian tick-borne encephalitis virus, and Far-Eastern tick-borne encephalitis virus (formerly known as Russian spring summer encephalitis, or RSSE). The diseases caused by these viruses are very similar, but RSSE, which occurs mainly in the east of Russia, is more often associated with severe symptoms. In Europe, approximately 2,000 cases are reported each year, whereas in Russia this number exceeds 10,000.

TBE symptoms

Most people infected with a tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus only develop mild symptoms or don’t develop any symptoms, however in some cases severe meningitis can occur. In most cases, the symptoms of TBE develop in two distinct stages. The initial symptoms usually develop after an incubation period of one to two weeks (after being bitten by an infected tick) and include fever, headache and fatigue. These symptoms usually last for a few days after which most people will make a full recovery. However, after approximately a week without symptoms some people go on to develop more serious symptoms. This is the second stage. Symptoms include severe headaches, fever and meningitis. If these symptoms occur, you will need to be admitted to hospital. A small percentage of patients may experience paralysis or other neurological complaints. Fewer than two in every hundred people who develop (severe) symptoms of TBE will die as a result of the condition.

Preventing TBE infection: TBE vaccination

Tick-borne encephalitis can be transmitted to humans by the bite an infected tick. The TBE vaccination offers up to 95% protection against developing symptoms. However, prevention is better than cure. After a tick bite, the tick should be removed as quickly as possible in order to reduce the chance of infection. Even better is to avoid being bitten by a tick. Therefore, it is recommend to wear protective clothing, closed footwear, and to use insect lotion, containing Deet, on exposed skin. 

Tick-borne encephalitis: countries and regions

The TBE virus and its subtypes occur in Central, Northern and Eastern Europe and in parts of Russia and Central Asia. Below you can read for which countries you may need a TBE vaccination.