Several Spanish regions are currently on alert after experiencing a surge in the number of ticks over the last few weeks.
Ticks have the potential to transmit diseases including Lyme and Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever which has already been responsible for at least three deaths in recent years.
Of the 900 species of ticks that have been identified worldwide, Spain has around 20, which need blood from humans or animals in order to complete their biological life cycles.
Ticks are more commonly found in animals including farm livestock, however, humans and their pet dogs can also become potential hosts when the tick's natural habitats are disturbed.
Council officials in the province of Zaragoza in Northern Spain were alerted this week by the Official College of Veterinarians after a proliferation of ticks were discovered in several green areas of the city. This has led to an unprecedented disinfection campaign which will be scheduled over the next week in 17 of the capital’s parks.
It was reported that more than 95% of the city’s veterinary clinics had detected an increase in the prevalence of the parasite over the last few months.
Luis Javier Yus, from the College of Veterinarians of Zaragoza, told El Periódico de Aragón, “There have always been ticks, but this time it is especially conspicuous. When the veterinarians have called us giving the warning voice, because it was something exaggerated, it is clear that something is happening. It is the first time that such a disinfection is going to be carried out.”
According to Yus, there are two major reasons for the increase, one being climate change and the other the large population of rabbits which are located in the southern area of the city, specifically in the area of Valdespartera, Venice Park and the surrounding pine forests.
Yus said that the warm-blooded rabbits are the perfect host for the ticks to reproduce and spread. He also points out that because of climate change, the presence of the ticks has been prolonged and can be found between March and October.
Madrid has also identified an increase in ticks with residents of the Leganés area reporting seeing the ticks “in their dozens” in streets which have been affecting pet dogs. There have also been reports of residents including children being bitten by the bugs.
“You can get them caught in your hair, clothes or shoes,” one of the local residents told Telemadrid.
As a result, the local city council has had to send technicians out to inspect the areas, although they assert that “it is not a plague” and that they are unable to do a general disinfection of the area due to the dangers to young children and dogs.
The province of Castellón has also seen a significant rise in numbers with the town of Torreblanca thought to be the epicentre. One local farmer claimed that there are even more ticks this year than there were in previous, not only in farms and rural areas but also in urban areas.
In his opinion, the overpopulation of rabbits and wild boar are to blame and explains the high presence of the mites.
Nine cases of Crimean-Congo fever in Spain since 2013
Since 2013, Spain has recorded a total of nine cases of Crimean-Congo Fever which is transmitted by the ticks and is potentially fatal.
The first case was recorded in a young woman in her thirties in 2013 who as a result was admitted to University Hospital in Salamanca.
Since then, nine separate cases have been recorded which have resulted in three deaths. However, due to a lack of proper diagnosis, many more cases could have gone unnoticed.
Spain is currently the only country in Western Europe with recorded cases with scientists fearing that the numbers will only increase further.
Prevention and Removal of Ticks
The removal of ticks is relatively straightforward. Using tweezers, grab the tick and pull up and away from the skin firmly, taking care not to break the tick and leaving parts attached to the skin.
The area should then be washed with alcohol or soap and water. The tick should be disposed of in a sealed bag.
As ticks are found in green areas such as fields and forests, you are advised to wear long sleeves, long socks and trousers to ensure that your skin is not exposed.
Pets such as dogs should also be inspected regularly for their presence, especially if exercising in areas with dense vegetation and grasslands.