Last June, the tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBE virus) was found in the Salland hills, the first case in the Netherlands. The first infected patient occurred one month later in the Utrecht hills. TBE usually causes flu-like symptoms but it can result in meningitis in vulnerable patients. According to tick expert Arnold van Vliet, the arrival of TBE underlines that doctors and nature lovers need to be aware of the dangers of tick bites.
The TBE virus has been gradually spreading across Europe for some time. Is it unavoidable that ticks will become infected throughout the Netherlands?
‘The disease has now been found at two sites quite far apart. That means there is a big chance you will find it in the rest of the country too. I would be surprised if that wasn’t the case.’
Could Dutch organizations have prevented TBE from arriving here?
‘No, I think that would have been completely impossible. Now we need to find out where it is and how we should deal with it.’
What can we do?
‘The arrival of the TBE virus underlines the importance for people who have been in the countryside to check themselves thoroughly for ticks. People still don’t do that enough. I have discovered that awareness alone is not enough. We are collaborating with the Strategic Communication group to see how you can change behaviour. Health workers also need to be made aware of this disease. That is quite a task as Lyme disease (caused by the Borrelia bacterium, ed.), which is transmitted by ticks, has been around for years yet there is still widespread ignorance about this disease too.’
How does the threat from the TBE virus compare to Lyme disease?
‘We have 25,000 new cases a year of Lyme disease in the Netherlands, some of which are very serious. I don’t expect to see people becoming infected with the TBE virus on the same scale. And only a small proportion have severe symptoms. People get vaccinated against TBE in Austria but there is no question yet of such measure in the Netherlands. Only a tiny proportion of the ticks are infected with the TBE virus.’