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Ticks: Overview

Created: April 3, 2012; Next update: 2015.


Media reports about ticks can sometimes be frightening. There may be talk of “tick attacks” or “little bloodsuckers” that are increasing in number every year. News like this is often overly dramatic and can be misleading.

Although ticks can carry and spread diseases, tick bites usually do not lead to health problems. The health problems caused by ticks are normally only temporary and not very serious. In fact, tick bites only rarely result in serious or lasting effects on health.

In this fact sheet we would like to give you a realistic idea of how likely you are to get ill if you are bitten by a tick. Please note that this information reflects the situation in Germany and may not be applicable to other parts of the world. You will also find out what you can do to prevent tick bites and possible complications.


The ticks found in Germany can mainly spread two diseases: Lyme disease (also called Lyme borreliosis) and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE). TBE leads to an inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or the membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). But the diseases will only be spread if the tick is infected with the bacteria or viruses in question, and also passes them on.

Lyme disease is a lot more common than TBE. Overall, TBE is rare, or does not even occur at all in many areas. Neither of these two diseases can be spread from one person to another. In other words: if someone is infected, they are not contagious to others.


The risk of being bitten by a tick will to a great extent depend on where you are and what you do when outdoors in nature. For example, it is recommended that you wear closed shoes when walking through tall grass or shrubs. Wearing clothes that cover as much of your skin as possible – such as long trousers and long sleeves – makes it more difficult for ticks to attach themselves to you. It is easier to see ticks on light-colored clothing than on dark clothing.

Ticks sometimes crawl around on your body for a few hours before biting. So it is a good idea to check yourself for ticks soon after returning from a walk in grassy or woodland areas, and remove any ticks you might find. Children generally do not remember to do things like this, and may need to be reminded or helped. Adults can also ask someone for help, particularly when checking for ticks in places that they cannot see themselves.

According to the German Robert Koch Institute, tick repellent sprays can offer temporary protection from ticks. Their effect wears off after two hours.

For some people, a TBE-vaccine may be an option.

Everyday life

You can lower your risk of Lyme disease and TBE by being aware of ticks and checking your body and your children’s bodies after spending time outdoors. After a tick bite, is important to watch out for symptoms that could be a sign of a tick-borne disease, and then see a doctor if any arise. And having a realistic idea of the health risks associated with ticks can make it easier to deal with them.

Whether or not someone is worried about ticks will depend on how at risk he or she feels personally. A lot of people enjoy spending time outdoors, do not consider ticks to be dangerous, and do not want to worry about what clothes to wear when out and about in nature. But others find it important to protect themselves as best as possible, are careful about what they wear and make sure they get vaccinated before heading to a “TBE risk area.”


  • Bayerisches Landesamt für Gesundheit und Lebensmittelsicherheit/ Nationales Referenzzentrum Borrelien. Borreliose (und FSME): Erkrankungen durch Zeckenbisse [online] July 16, 2008 [Accessed on March 28, 2011]. [Link]
  • Marcu A, Uzzell D, Barnett J. Making sense of unfamiliar risks in the countryside: the case of Lyme disease. Health Place 2011; 17: 843-850. [Summary] [PubMed: 21514209]
  • Robert Koch-Institut. Lyme-Borreliose. RKI-Ratgeber Infektionskrankheiten – Merkblätter für Ärzte [online]. 24.10.2011 [Accessed on April 11, 2012]. [Link]
  • Robert Koch-Institut. Frühsommer-Meningoenzephalitis (FSME) – Merkblätter für Ärzte [online]. 07.06.2011 [Accessed on April 11, 2012]. [Link]
  • Robert Koch-Institut. Lyme-Borreliose: Analyse der gemeldeten Erkrankungsfälle der Jahre 2007 bis 2009 aus den sechs östlichen Bundesländern. Epidemiologisches Bulletin 2010; 12: 101-110. [Full text]
  • IQWiG health information is written with the aim of helping people understand the advantages and disadvantages of the main treatment options and health care services.

    Because IQWiG is a German institute, some of the information provided here is specific to the German health care system. The suitability of any of the described options in an individual case can be determined by talking to a doctor. We do not offer individual consultations.

    Our information is based on the results of good-quality studies. It is written by a team of health care professionals, scientists and editors, and reviewed by external experts. You can find a detailed description of how our health information is produced and updated in our methods.

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