The number of people becoming ill as a result of infections caused by tick-borne bacteria and viruses has risen significantly in the region surrounding the seas of Öresund, Kattegat and Skagerrak. It is estimated that more than 40,000 people fell ill during 2011. However, comparing the figures between the individual countries is not easy, with many cases going unreported.
But the researchers know one thing for certain: the number of ticks in the region has reached record levels, probably as a result of climate change.
A total of SEK 17 million has therefore been invested in the ScandTick project by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health, Region Västra Götaland and Swedish, Norwegian and Danish hospitals, with support from the EU INTERREG programme, with the initial aim of countering the most serious tick-borne diseases: TBE and Borrelia.
“The growing number of cases of Borrelia and TBE infection has had a negative impact on public health in the region,” says project manager Tomas Bergström, a researcher at the Sahlgrenska Academy. “At the same time, inadequate diagnostics mean that many people never receive healthcare or vaccines. This leads to significant costs for society in the form of doctor’s visits, healthcare costs and long-term illness.”
The lack of consensus is illustrated by the fact that there is a new, effective vaccine against TBE, which is often not used due to strategies for recommending the vaccine being lacking or insufficient.
“Since the countries within the region share this problem, we can work more closely together to draw up joint guidelines for reporting, diagnosis, treatment and vaccination,” continues Tomas. “We also want to improve preventive work within the region, and to develop information for the public and for healthcare workers.”
The ScandTick project was launched in Gothenburg on 22 November.
ABOUT BORRELIA AND TBE
Borrelia is a bacterial infection that is initially visible on the skin, but which in serious cases can affect the nervous system. Early diagnosis means that the infection can be treated with antibiotics, but in many cases Borrelia can be hard to diagnose. TBE is a viral infection. It is the most serious tick-borne infection in the region, causing many cases of permanent neurological damage each year and even occasional deaths.
The partners in the project are Sahlgrenska University Hospital, Region Västra Götaland, Sørlandet Hospital Health Enterprise (SSHF), Ryhov County Hospital in Jönköping, Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen and the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The total budget for the project is EUR 1,869,143, of which EUR 515,350 has come from the EU.