Home » The number of cases of tick-borne encephalitis is increasing, unpasteurized dairy products and low vaccination rates are a problem

The number of cases of tick-borne encephalitis is increasing, unpasteurized dairy products and low vaccination rates are a problem

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The number of cases of tick-borne encephalitis is increasing, unpasteurized dairy products and low vaccination rates are a problem

The number of cases of tick-borne encephalitis has been increasing in Slovakia in recent years, at the end of June, 17 people with the disease were hospitalized in Banská Bystrica. They became infected after consuming mountain products from unpasteurized sheep’s and goat’s milk. Already until June, they had more hospitalized patients in the hospital than in previous years for the entire period.

As a result of climate change, ticks are moving to more northern areas, and low vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis is also a problem. In Slovakia, it is estimated to be less than 10 percent of people.

“In Austria, 90 percent of the population is vaccinated. Thanks to this, despite the occurrence of risk areas, they were the only ones in Europe to record a decrease in the number of tick-borne encephalitis cases,” explains Jana Kerlik, who works in the epidemiology department of the Regional Office of Public Health in Banská Bystrica.

It also explains:

why unpasteurized dairy products are problematic; whether tick-borne encephalitis virus can be transmitted by every tick; what are the symptoms of the disease and how to prevent it.

The media draw attention to the ongoing epidemic of tick-borne encephalitis in Banská Bystrica and Brezno. Could you describe the current situation in the region and Slovakia?

From the beginning of the year to July 3, 2023, 85 cases of tick-borne encephalitis have been registered, more than half of which are in the Banskobystry region. Three epidemics have been reported – one in the Trenčín region and two in the Banskobystrica region.

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What was the trigger for the epidemics? People are said to have become infected after consuming unpasteurized sheep’s or goat’s milk.

In all three outbreaks, unpasteurized sheep’s milk products, especially fresh sheep’s cheese, were the likely factor in the transmission of tick-borne encephalitis virus.

Speaking of dairy products, why is the disease called tick-borne encephalitis? I also caught the name cerebral encephalitis somewhere.

The disease is most often transmitted by ticks. The second possible way of transmitting the virus is through the consumption of unpasteurized dairy products, especially of sheep and goat origin. This method of transmission is almost minimal abroad. Since there is a tradition of production and consumption of traditional mountain products in Slovakia, but vaccination against tick-borne encephalitis is low, every year we register up to 20 percent of cases in people who became infected after consuming risky products. In this, we are unique within Europe.

Let’s go back to the current epidemic. Is this a problem of one farm where people got infected, or does it point to a larger problem?

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