Lyme disease in Italy - How to avoid freaking out after a tick bite​

person exploring the outdoors

Is there Lyme disease in Italy?

According to the Italian Health Ministry the most affected regions are in the north: Friuli Venezia Giulia, Liguria, Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Trentino Alto Adige, while the south of Italy reported few cases.

Recent studies demonstrated that this problem is not limited to wild areas, but involves also plains and suburban zones. 

The progressive climate change has probably promoted the growth of tick species in Italy and many experts think that the reported cases will probably rise.

A tick bite can occur in any season, but ticks are particularly common from early Spring to late Summer!

After long walks in the hot city centre of Milan, who wouldn’t fancy the freshness of hiking in Italy, maybe on one of the countless trails of the Dolomites? 

Enjoy the breeze but don’t lower your guard! Just like you, tiny and seemingly harmless monsters enjoy the humidity of trees and parks. 

These little rascals are also known as ticks, arachnids that feed on blood to survive.

Let’s start from the basics…

Experts think that the reported cases of Lyme disease in Italy will probably rise.

Why are tick bites so scary?

skin with tick bite

Because through tick bite people can get Lyme disease. Named after Lyme, a small town on the left bank of the Connecticut river, Lyme disease can sometimes have major consequences on nerves, joints and heart. 

This is why it is very important to know a few things about Lyme disease in Italy, in particular if you are planning to hike in Italy but you are worried about tick bite risk.

How does a tick bite look like? How do you recognize a tick?

There are many types of ticks, and often they are not easy to recognize, but remember that if they fly or jump they are not ticks!

The main carrier of Lyme disease in Italy is a species of tick known as “the hard tick” (Ixodes ricinus).

There are a few features of the offender, and information that you should keep in mind because it could be helpful to the doctor that will see you:

  • What color and shape was the tick?
  • Are you able to say when and where the tick attached to your skin or at least in which situation you could have acquired the bite?
  • Was it really attached or just walking on the skin surface?
  • How big was it? Was it full of blood (“engorged”)

How to remove a tick?

When an attached tick is found, the first thing to do is… to remove it! Don’t worry, tick removal is an easy task! All you need are tweezers or small forceps.

 

  • #1 The sooner you remove it, the more chances you have to prevent a potential infection. 
  • #2 Grasping the tick as close to the skin as possible, pull firmly straight up without squeezing or twisting. The body of the tick may contain infected fluids, so do not crash it.
  • #3 After removing it wrap it in a piece of toilet paper and flush it down the toilet or, better, burn it.
  • #4 Wash gently and disinfect the area around the bite and your hands with alcohol or soap and water.
  • #5 Disinfect tools that were used to remove the tick
 

If fragments of the mouthparts of the tick cannot be removed, they should be left alone and will be expelled spontaneously.

If the tick has not been attached for at least 36 hours, it is unlikely to have transmitted disease.

Tick Bites Symptoms: should you worry?

You don’t necessarily have to see a doctor after a tick bite, but you do need to know what symptoms should concern you. Call your doctor if you develop any of these symptoms in the weeks following the tick bite:

  • Fever
  • Body aches
  • Tiredness
  • Nausea 
  • Neck Stiffness
  • Joint pain
  • New rashes in different areas of the body 
 

In order to be able to transmit the germ that causes Lyme disease, the tick must be firmly attached to the skin and must have started the feeding process (i.e. sucking your blood).

If the tick has not been attached for at least 36 hours, it is unlikely to have transmitted disease.

Don’t play doctor and ask for help immediately. Early detection of an infection can lower the risk of complications!

 

lyme disease bullseye rash

Tick bite treatment with antibiotics

Some patients who see a doctor after finding an attached tick, even without symptoms, may be suitable for a course of antibiotics to prevent Lyme disease. 

When prescribed, prophylaxis has to be begun within 72 hours of tick removal.

Do not ask for blood test at the time of a tick bite: testing is not helpful because antibodies to the microorganism responsible of Lyme disease are not detectable yet in your blood.

Warning Symptoms shortly after a tick bite: if the area around the bite is particularly swollen, itchy, red, and/or painful, contact a doctor immediately, as these are typical symptoms of an allergic reaction! If the allergic reaction is severe (e.g. trouble breathing, swollen lips etc.), go to the closest emergency room!

 

Antibiotics should be taken within 72 hours of tick removal.

Prevention, prevention, and then some more prevention

Is there anything you can do to prevent ticks from choosing you as their next host? Follow the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention precautionary measures to keep ticks at a distance. Here is a link to the site.

These preventive steps are not bullet-proof, so always make sure to tick check clothing and pet’s fur after being outdoors. 

Again, if you experience any unusual symptom, call your doctor for medical assistance or visit a clinic in Italy!

Ticks may appear small and inoffensive, but can cause a whole deal of problems if they pass unnoticed!

If you are bitten, watch out for symptoms and let your doctor know about developments of your condition!

Still got doubts?

DoctorsinItaly Team

This article was written, curated, and updated by the DoctorsinItaly team, as part of our efforts to share relevant and current information on health and wellness related topics, as well as on life as an expat or traveler in Italy.

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