Over 300 UK cyclists embarking on a fundraising adventure through eastern Europe this summer could be at risk from a potentially life-threatening tick disease.
The 'Bike the Baltic' challenge is a month long event, involving a 2,000km journey from Warsaw, Poland to St Petersburg, Russia through the Baltic capitals of Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn. It's organised in aid of Marie Curie Cancer Care and starts on 16 August, finishing on 14 September.
But according to Tick Alert, a campaign to raise awareness of tick-borne diseases, the route takes riders through some of the world's most endemic areas (particularly Latvia) for Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE). The disease, contracted via the bite of an infected tick, can lead to meningitis, and in serious cases result in paralysis and death. There is no known treatment for it.
Tick bites can also cause Lyme disease, which can also be quite serious but is treatable through antibiotics.
"Cyclists riding through forest and woodland areas in shorts and short sleeved tops need to think about protecting themselves against tick bites, particularly in high-risk TBE areas," said a spokesperson for Tick Alert in a statement.
Prevention is better than cure, and Tick Alert advises people visiting tick prone areas to:
- Use an insect repellent that is effective against ticks.
- Avoid wearing shorts in rural and wooded areas, tuck trousers into socks, or cover all exposed skin with protective clothing (though not always practical in summer)
- Inspect your skin for ticks and remove as soon as possible with fine-tipped tweezers.
- Avoid unpasteurised milk which may also be infected with the TBE virus in endemic regions.
- And to get rid of a tick, grasp it firmly and as close to your skin as possible. In a steady motion, pull the tick's body away directly outwards without jerking or twisting.