New tick-borne encephalitis vaccination

15th May 2024

Posted by Dr Michelle Wright

Welcome to Health Matters, Dr Michelle Wright with you as usual, bringing you up-to-date information in the world of health and medicine.  

Vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis

A few weeks back, I was talking about the country-wide campaign encouraging people to get vaccinated against tick-borne encephalitis. A viral infection carried by some ticks in Switzerland that can be transmitted to humans.  

While cases of tick-borne encephalitis in humans are rare, somewhere around 300 per year. It is estimated that between 1 to 6% of ticks in Switzerland carry the virus.  

Alarmingly, the infection can lead to severe neurological complications and, in some cases, prove fatal. And importantly, there is no specific treatment.  

What changes have been made?

A couple of important changes from the Federal Office of Public Health this month concerning the vaccination.  

Firstly, the risk zones for tick-borne encephalitis, have expanded, prompting authorities to adjust vaccination guidelines.  

Previously, vaccination was recommended across the country except in the cantons of Ticino and Geneva. These areas were spared ticks carrying the virus.  

However, the canton of Geneva has now joined the list of risk zones. Meaning the whole country is now affected with the exception of Ticino.  

And the second important change. The Federal Office of Public Health has extended its recommendations for the vaccine to include children as young as 3. A change from the previous guideline of vaccinating children from the age of 6. 

Why this change?

Recent scientific studies cited by the Federal Office of Public Health reveal that children diagnosed with tick-borne encephalitis may experience long-term cognitive issues. These include headaches, fatigue, and problems with attention and concentration. 

One study, published in May 2024, highlighted that between 2005 and 2022, 463 children in Switzerland were confirmed or suspected to have tick-borne encephalitis, with a median age of 10 years. The research concluded that younger children are just as susceptible to infection as older ones. They experience a similar frequency of flu-like or more severe symptoms, prompting authorities to broaden their vaccination recommendations. 

With the humid, warm spring, experts are saying that this could be a ‘great season’ for ticks. With an increase in tick bites and the subsequent infections from viruses and bacteria ticks transmit.   

As we navigate the complexities of tick-borne diseases, it’s crucial to stay informed and remain proactive in protecting ourselves and our children.  

Vaccination, alongside vigilant tick prevention measures, are our best defence against this potentially life-altering illness. 

That’s it for this episode. Stay tuned for more updates on the latest health developments across Switzerland and beyond.  

My name is Dr Michelle Wright. Thank you for listening.  

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