This year, the National Institute for Health Development (TAI) initiated a tick-collection campaign which is now nearing its end, with the results showing large regional differences in the rates of tick-borne diseases across Estonia.
This spring, TAI opened a "tick-bank" and called on people to register ticks they found on themselves or their pets, freeze them overnight and then mail them to the lab for additional testing. The ticks collected through the campaign have been used to map the spread of tick-borne diseases in Estonia.
Additional info on ticks and the map can be found here.
Julia Geller, head of the department of virology and immunology at TAI, said: "The results have far exceeded our boldest expectations, we have received many ticks, there are more than 5,000 in our bank."
The received letters are opened, the condition of the tick is assessed - whether it is a male, female or a nymph tick and if they have already sucked blood. They are then bathed in a saline solution and frozen for further analysis.
Geller noted: "We have received ticks in every stage of development, even tiny larvae. We can conclude that Estonians are very familiar with ticks and know exactly what they look like."
However, there have been situations where ticks have escaped being imprisoned in an envelope.
Geller acknowledged: "There have been a few cases where we received an envelope with the code on it, with a tick supposedly also inserted, but there was no tick in the envelope. They either escaped or fell out."
Most ticks have been sent from Harju County, which is why a sample was created for the region. Conversely, all ticks received from Ida-Viru County have been added to the "tick blender", as dubbed by lab technicians, in order to create a "tick smoothie". Ceramic bullets crush the tick's body and analyses can then be done to firstly find borreliosis and then viral encephalitis.
Geller said: "As of today, encephalitis presence has been discovered in 400 ticks, none of them having been positive."
The situation regarding borreliosis is worse: Geller said every fourth or fifth tick carries the bacteria, also matching data from the Health Board (Terviseamet), which states encephalitis spread is in a downward trend but borreliosis remains high.
Irina Dontšenko, adviser at department of Communicable Diseases Surveillance and Epidemic Control at the Health Board, reminded it is not too late to get vaccinated for viral encephalitis.
Dontšenko said: "We are still going into mushroom season and berry-picking season. If we vaccinate now, we can get the first possible defense."
There is no vaccine for the more common borreliosis however, so one should exercise caution when moving in nature.
TAI's tick collecting action will conclude with August and the institute plans to reveal the results before the new year.
Editor: Kristjan Kallaste