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Overseas commuters at risk of potentially deadly virus

The emergence of a new army of "overseas commuters" means occupational health advisors must prepare to warn workers about the risk of a potentially life-threatening disease in Europe, says Tick Alert.

The campaign, which aims to raise awareness of tickborne encephalitis (TBE), says recent research shows that TBE-endemic countries, such as Croatia, Estonia and Slovenia are among the most popular locations for Britons to relocate and work for their employer from overseas, commuting back to the UK as needed. The campaign is urging occupational health nurses to advise employees of the disease risk and get them to seek medical advice and take adequate precautions before travelling.

TBE infected ticks are found typically in rural and forest areas from late spring onwards and throughout the summer. It is a viral disease contracted via the bite of an infected tick and is now endemic in 16 European countries. It can lead to meningitis and in serious cases result in paralysis, with one in 30 cases proving fatal. At-risk groups include all visitors to rural areas of endemic countries, particularly those participating in outdoor activities. The chances of being bitten are greater as global warming increases the number of ticks in the countryside.

A number of measures can be taken to reduce the risk of infection: using an insect repellent, covering exposed areas of skin, regularly checking for ticks and removing any found, and avoiding unpasteurised milk. Medical advice should be sought before travel, either from GPs or specialist clinics run by MASTA.
A survey of occupational health nurses revealed that, although nine out of 10 are aware of the disease, only one in four nurses know the disease is endemic in mainland Europe.

The Foreign Office advises that visitors to TBE endemic regions seek advice from their local surgery or clinic well before travelling.

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