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HEALTH

Ticks in Germany: How to avoid them and what to do if you get bitten

A recent increase in diseases related to the eight-legged bloodsuckers in Germany suggests that ticks are on the rise. We break drown what to look out for and what to do if you get bitten.

A warning sign against ticks hangs on a tree in a forest.
A warning sign against ticks hangs on a tree in a forest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

What are ticks?

Ticks are tiny, spider-like creatures that are usually between 1mm to 1cm in size. They generally live in long grass, bushes and wooded areas.

These little arachnids don’t fly or jump but climb onto animals or humans as they brush past. They are parasites, and once a tick bites into the skin, it feeds on blood for a few days before dropping off. 

Are they dangerous?

During this unpleasant bloodsucking transaction, ticks can transmit diseases to humans which can become dangerous. 

The disease which is mostly associated with ticks is Early Summer Meningoencephalitis (TBE) which, in severe cases, can cause permanent damage such as paralysis, or even death. Thanks to the mild winter and increasingly warm temperatures, this disease is on the rise this year in Germany.

READ ALSO: How climate change is threatening Germany’s forests

The other main disease associated with ticks is Lyme disease which, in the most severe cases, can attack the nervous system, joints, and organs. 

What are the symptoms?

Those who develop Lyme disease can get flu-like symptoms a few days or weeks after being bitten by an infected tick. Children might lose their appetite, lack energy, or complain of stomach ache.

But the most obvious sign of Lyme disease is a red circular rash around the bite.

A woman walks her dog through a patch of long grass. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/HUK-COBURG | Hagen Lehmann

However, if you remove the tick in less than twelve hours, you usually have nothing to worry about, as it takes a while for the infection to be passed onto humans. 

The situation is different with TBE, however, as the disease is transmitted much faster. But, thankfully, it is also much rarer: according to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI), only 0.1 to 5 percent of ticks in risk areas carry TBE viruses.

Most people infected with TBE don’t have any symptoms, while one in three initially suffers from flu-like symptoms such as fever, headache, and aching limbs. In rare cases, the spinal cord can be affected, with symptoms such as severe headaches and neck pain, nausea, and impaired consciousness.

In the majority of patients, the disease heals completely, but in an average of one percent of cases, it can be fatal. 

Luckily, there is a vaccination against TBE, which is recommended for those regularly visiting high-risk areas.

Where am I most likely to get bitten?

Ticks can be found all over Germany – even in city parks. However, TBE infections occur more frequently in so-called TBE risk areas, and the RKI has an updated map of these areas

These are found in large parts of Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, and parts of southern Hesse, Saxony, and Thuringia, but there are also isolated risk areas in central Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, and Saarland. 

In February, the number of TBE risk areas was expanded by the RKI to include five new TBE risk areas in Bavaria, Saxony and Lower Saxony, so that there are now a total of 161 affected districts.

What should I do if I get bitten by a tick?

Firstly, it is unlikely that you will even feel the tick bite, which is why it’s important to check yourself carefully when returning from a trip to the countryside or a risk area. 

Ticks tend to bite around thin areas of the skin such as kneecaps, groin, armpits, and hairline. In children, they can often be found on the scalp and behind the ears.

Using tweezers is a good way to pull a tick out of the skin. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-central picture | Patrick Pleul

If you do find a tick, you should remove it quickly with a special tick remover (available at all pharmacies), tweezers, or your fingernails. The sooner you can do this, the lower the risk the tick will be able to infect you.

The important thing is to make sure you remove the whole tick, by grabbing it as close to the skin as possible and pulling slowly. Then wash and clean the bite, and contact a doctor if you’re worried.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

One thing you shouldn’t do is to put oily liquids on the tick, as this could enrage it and cause it to release saliva potentially containing harmful pathogens.

How can I prevent a tick bite?

If you’ll be spending time in wooded areas, long grass, or known risk areas, you should wear long-sleeved tops and full-legged trousers and tuck trousers into socks. Children should also wear a hat, as ticks can climb to their height in bushes.

In short: have as little skin exposed as possible. 

It’s also sensible to wear light-coloured clothing so you can easily spot a tick if one bites you.

Useful vocabulary

tick = (die) Zecke = tick

tick bite = (der) Zeckenbiss

tweezers = (die) Pinzette

tick pliers = (die) Zeckenzange

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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HEALTH

What to know about Germany’s plans to raise health insurance fees

Germany is struggling to fill huge gaps in its health funds following the pandemic and is planning to raise health insurance fees next year. Here's who it could affect and how much more people could have to pay.

What to know about Germany's plans to raise health insurance fees

What’s going on?

In the aftermath of the Covid pandemic, Germany is struggling to fill a large gap in its healthcare reserves.

According to Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD), the statutory health insurance funds are facing a deficit of €17 billion next year, placing Germany’s healthcare finances under severe strain.

Lauterbach says this is largely due to the generous spending policies of the previous government both before and during the Covid crisis. As well as pouring billions of euros into free tests, the healthcare system was overwhelmed by patients during the most severe waves of the pandemic. 

To tackle this shortfall, the Health Ministry has drafted a set of proposals for raising additional funds. 

One of these proposals is to increase the level of health insurance contributions that people have to pay each month. The funds raised from this would account for around 10 percent of the total rescue package. 

READ ALSO: How to make the most of reward schemes on your German health insurance

How much more could people have to pay?

Lauterbach has pitched a 0.3 percent rise in monthly contributions. This would be added to the so-called additional contribution, which is currently set at a maximum of 1.3 percent, on top of the 14.6 percent general contribution that is paid as standard. 

For people in employment, contributions are divided equally between the employer and the employee. That means the extra 0.3 percent would translate to 0.15 percent extra per month in reality. 

In concrete terms, that’s an extra €1.50 for someone with a gross income of €1,000 per month, or €4.50 extra for someone with a gross income of €3,000 per month. 

Self-employed people – who generally have to bear the full brunt of the health insurance costs themselves – will fare a little worse under the plans. They’ll be expected to shell out €3 extra per month for every €1,000 of gross profit. 

Would everyone have to pay this much? 

No. Firstly, the changes would only affect those who are registered with one of the statutory health insurance companies such as TK or AOK. People who are privately insured will continue to pay the contribution set by their insurer.  

Secondly, unlike the general contribution of 14.6 percent, statutory insurance funds have the option to decide how much of the additional contribution they want to charge. 

That means that, while 1.6 percent could become the new maximum, there’s no guarantee that companies will choose to charge this. Depending on their financial situation, they may decide to keep the additional fees lower to remain competitive, or alternatively hike the fees to the maximum in order to shore up their reserves or offer better services. 

In other words, people will still pay a minimum contribution of 14.6 percent of their income but could pay a maximum of 16.2 percent (assuming that their health insurance company chooses to charge the full additional contribution). Most will pay something in the middle. 

READ ALSO: Reader question: How can I change my German health insurance provider?

Health insurance cards from AOK.

Health insurance cards from AOK. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

What other plans are on the table?

As we mentioned, raising health insurance contributions is likely to cover just a small fraction of the deficit. To cover the rest, Lauterbach is proposing a range of other measures, including:

More state funding

In 2023, the federal government will step in with increased funding for the health insurance funds. Instead of the usual spending of €14.5 billion per year, the traffic-light coalition will shell out €16.5 billion on topping up the healthcare funds next year and will also provide a further €1 billion in the form of an interest-free loan.

Money from healthcare reserves

Statutory health insurance companies will have to dig into their savings to the tune of €4 billion to help cover the deficit. At the same time, €2.4 billion will be taken out of a pool of money known as the ‘Health Fund’ (Gesundheitsfond), which is built up through a combination of health insurance contributions, taxpayer funding and other forms of insurance such as pensions insurance. 

Increased discounts on medicines

Under German law, pharmaceutical companies are required to provide statutory health insurance companies with a discount of at least seven percent on certain types of medicine. This will be hiked to 12 percent for one year. 

A pharmacist scans a prescription

A pharmacist scans a prescription. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | David Inderlied

Furthermore, pharmacies will be required to provide the insurance funds with a discount of €2 (rather than the previous €1.77) per packet of prescription drugs. This will last for at least two years. Meanwhile, a moratorium on raising the price of medicines will be extended to 2026. 

Restrictions on bonuses for doctors

Doctors’ surgeries will no longer be given financial incentives for taking on new patients. 

Is this all set in stone?

Not yet, although it is likely to be passed in a parliamentary vote. So far, the cabinet has already waved through the changes, and on Friday they were debated for the first time in the Bundestag. 

READ ALSO: Why large families are set to pay less for German care insurance

What are people saying?

In a seething speech in the Bundestag on Friday, Bavaria’s state health minister Klaus Holetschek (CSU) criticised Lauterbach’s plans to raise health insurance contributions, arguing that it would “send the wrong signal” to patients. 

He also laid into the proposals to cut doctors’ bonuses for taking on new patients, arguing that this would lead to a cut in services.

However, the FDP health expert Andrew Ullmann said Lauterbach’s plans could help to avoid a hike in contributions that could cost people hundreds of euros per months. “That would not be responsible in times of inflation and energy crisis,” he said.

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD)

Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) speaks at a debate in the Bundestag on the measures to bail out the health insurance funds. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Annette Riedl

In his speech in the Bundestag, Lauterbach said the rise in health insurance contributions was ultimately fair since employers would be expected to pay half. He also defended his plans to dig into the health insurance funds’ reserves. At some of the health insurance funds, board members “earn significantly more than the Federal Chancellor”, he claimed. 

Pointing to his proposals to shift some of the financial burden onto pharmaceutical companies, the SPD politician said he would “stand up to lobby pressure” and refuse to change course. 

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