Living in Finland

Ticks in Finland: beware of this tiny danger!

A tick
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There aren’t that many dangerous animals or insects in Finland. But ones that you really have to keep your eye out are ticks. In this blog post on ticks in Finland, we’ll

  • tell you what ticks species there are in Finland;
  • look at the spread of ticks in Finland;
  • discuss why they are dangerous; and
  • tell you what you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones from ticks and the diseases they can carry.

Tick species in Finland

It is estimated that about 500 000 people in Finland get bitten by a tick every year.

There are two species of ticks harassing both people and animals. The common European tick Ixodus ricinus is native to Finland. The newly found Siberian tick, Ixodus persulcatus has probably invaded Finland from the east.

Ticks seek mammals in order to feed on their blood. Voles and mice often have ticks, but they are also common on deers. When ticks find a suitable animal, they look for a soft spot on the skin and attach to it with their mouth. For example, ticks favor eye corners and armpits. Bloodsucking takes 2-7 days. Then the tick is ready to leave.

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Ticks spreading in Finland

Ticks have become increasingly common in Finland.

They have spread probably because of climate change. It has brought us mild winters, which are more suitable for ticks.

Another contributing factor is increased travel with pets. People take their dogs and cats with them as they go on holiday. For example, researchers have observed ticks in southern Lapland in areas where they have never seen ticks before. Some researchers believe tourists from southern Finland have brought them, most likely with their dogs.

The most tick-infested places are lush forests and meadows, especially in southern Finland. However, ticks are common also on the western coast, eastern, and central Finland.

The spread of the common Europan tick (a) and the Siberian tick (b) (Laaksonen et al. 2017, 2018, image also here).

If you are interested in the spread of ticks in Europe, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has a good map here.

The diseases ticks in Finland can carry: Lyme disease

Both tick species can carry bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi. It causes an infection called the Lyme disease. The first symptoms include a circular rash around the place where the tick had been attached to the skin and a flu-like fever.

In Finland, about 6 000 people are infected with Lyme disease every year in Finland. About 50 – 80 % are symptomatic. The treatment is antibiotics.

However, not all ticks carry the disease. It is estimated that about 10 – 20 % of ticks carry the bacteria, but regional differences are big. In some areas, 50 % ticks can carry it.

Researchers have estimated that 1/50 or 1/100 tick bites result in Lyme disease. Antibody studies indicate that about 2 % of Finns have had it at some point in their lives.

The diseases ticks in Finland can carry: TBE

The other disease, which ticks also cause, is called TBE (tick-borne encephalitis). This virus causes meningitis and encephalitis. Both are dangerous conditions. 10 – 20 % of those who fall ill, may develop permanent neuropsychiatric consequences. The mortality is 1 – 2 %.

In Finland, doctors diagnose about 40 cases of TBE yearly. Although in the past few years, the number of diagnoses has varied between 50 and 85. There are indications that children under 3 years of age are least susceptible to TBE, and rarely fall ill.

The Finnish institute for health and welfare maintains an interactive map where you can check the areas in which ticks most likely carry TBE. The map is in Finnish, but it is quite easy to understand even if you don’t speak Finnish. The greener the color of a municipality is on the map, the more diagnosed cases of TBE there has been.

Luckily, there is a vaccination against TBE. It is easily available from private clinics and also from the so-called tick bus. The price of a shot is approximately 50 euros. In order to get the best protection, three shots are needed. Since all people don’t maintain high antibody levels naturally, a booster may be required every 3-10 years.

In spring 2020, the Finnish institute for health and welfare for the first time recommended TBE vaccinations also for people who spend a lot of time outside in certain areas in Helsinki. These areas are Kivinokka, Jollas, and South-Laajasalo in East Helsinki. The institute had previously recommended the vaccination in the capital region only for people who spend a lot of time in the Espoo archipelago.

How to protect yourself, your kids, and your pets from ticks

When picking blueberries and mushrooms it’s a good idea to tuck your pants into socks. And wear high rubber boots. These will prevent ticks from climbing up your legs. Wearing light-colored clothing helps you spot the ticks easier.

If you’ve been to areas or surroundings where ticks are likely to be as well, check your skin thoroughly in the evening. Pay particular attention to those areas of the skin where it is easy for a tick to hide. Check particularly behind your ears, in your groin area, under your armpits, and so forth. For children, it is also important to check the scalp. Ticks can hide in the hair.

Pets can bring ticks indoors. If you wish you can use tick repellents or other treatments that protect your pet from these parasites. Unfortunately, no treatment is perfect.

Applying tick repellent on a cat

Pharmacies do sell tick repellents also for humans. But like with pets, these treatments are not perfect either. So, even if you use repellent, do check yourself anyway.

Should you find a tick attached to your skin, remove it as soon as possible with tongs. You can find tick tongs for sale at the pharmacy. If the tick remains on the skin for more than 24 hours the probability of catching Lyme disease increases significantly. If you find ticks attached to your pet, pull them off with the tongs.

Other summer nuisances

We discuss other Finnish summer nuisances in a tutorial Your crash course to Finland. The tutorial also has tons of other content. We recommend it to especially those who are new to Finland or are just considering relocating here.

For those wanting to learn more about Finnish nature, we recommend our “Your Neighborhood Nature” online course.

Get our “Your Neighborhood Nature in Finland” online course for 20 % OFF! Click here to claim this offer.

Sources:

This post was last edited May 7, 2020.

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Heidi
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