This means an increased risk of contracting the tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) virus and Lyme disease if bitten by an infected tick.
Contrary to popular belief, ticks do not jump or fall from trees, but wait in grass and shrub land for a host and will climb onto your clothes or skin if you brush against something they're on.
The more wild and natural the environment, the more likely it is that there will be ticks – although they can also be found in parks and gardens. Tick activity is at its highest during Spring and early Summer.
“When we have a mild winter, with temperatures over 5C to 7C, ticks are going to be more active. This doesn’t mean there are more ticks, just that they are more active,” says Georg Duscher, parasitologist and biologist at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.
Every year he studies ticks in nature and analyses their pathogen. This year researchers observed active ticks as early as January and February.
If you’re bitten by a tick infected with TBE, it can be fatal. Last year 64 people across Austria were infected with TBE.
A vaccination provides protection against TBE in nine out of every ten people who receive it, although you can still get Lyme disease even if you’ve had the “Zeckenimpfung” vaccination.
The vaccine can be purchased in any chemist (Apotheke) in Austria and your doctor will then inject it for you.
Even if you've been vaccinated, you should still take precautions to reduce your risk of being bitten by an infected tick. If you’re out hiking in long grass it’s good practise to wear long-sleeved tops and trousers tucked into your socks, apply an insect repellent to exposed skin and check for ticks when you get home. Common places to find them are around the hairline, behind the ears, on or around the elbows, the backs of the knees, the groin and the armpits.
Lyme disease, or Lyme borreliosis, is a bacterial infection spread to humans by infected ticks. Lyme disease can often be treated effectively if it's detected early on. But if it's not treated or treatment is delayed, there's a risk you could develop severe and long-lasting symptoms.
Many people with early-stage Lyme disease develop a distinctive circular rash at the site of the tick bite, usually around three to 30 days after being bitten. The rash is often described as looking like a bull's-eye on a dart board. The affected area of skin will be red and the edges may feel slightly raised. Some people also experience flu-like symptoms in the early stages of Lyme disease.
Experts estimate that between 30 to 40 percent of ticks in Austria are infected with TBE and Lyme disease. The quicker you discover and remove the tick the less likely it is that they will infect you.
If the tick has attached to your skin, it’s best to remove them with fine tipped tweezers or a special tick hook. You can also apply oil, glue or some other type of liquid to the tick before removing it. Ticks only breathe once or twice per hour – so if you cover them in oil or liquid they will suffocate.
Pull upward with a steady, even pressure. Don't twist or jerk the tick; this can cause the head to break off and remain in the skin, causing infection.
After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the bite area and your hands with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub, or soap and water. If you develop a rash or fever within several weeks of removing a tick, see your doctor.
Austria is one of the worst-affected countries in Central Europe for TBE – so even if you’re just coming to visit for a few weeks and plan to spend time in the parks and hike in nature, it’s worth thinking about getting the vaccination.