Two Belgians are thought to have contracted a tick-borne disease rare in this country according to the Institute for Tropical Medicine in Antwerp. Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is, as the name suggests, a virus which affects the brain, and is carried by a tick. The Institute sees one or two cases a year, in cases where the disease was contracted abroad.
“In both of the current cases, the patients were abroad during the summer, but it is also plausible they were infected in Belgium,” said Patrick Soentjens, director of the clinic for travel medicine at the Institute.
In most cases, infected patients present no symptoms, unless is is a mild flu-like feeling. In some cases, however, it can lead to meningitis.
One of the two current cases is Chris Lieten, a gardener from Lummen in Limburg province. “I felt dizzy, and suddenly I was unable to speak,” he told Het Nieuwsblad. “I also couldn’t walk. At night I sat on the edge of the bed wanting to go to the toilet, but my legs wouldn’t cooperate.”
The other victim is a 22-year-old woman from Ghent.
The disease is common in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, as well as southern parts of Germany and Austria, but until now has only been detected in Belgium – apart from in travellers – in animals such as wild boar and cattle.
Both patients have indeed travelled during the summer: one on city trip and the other to the Dutch province of Zeeland. Experts consider it unlikely either case was contracted on those trips, meaning that the likelihood is greater that the disease now presents a risk here at home.
For those travelling further afield, a vaccine is available.