Learning to live with ticks? The role of exposure and risk perceptions in protective behaviour against tick-borne diseases

PLoS One. 2018 Jun 20;13(6):e0198286. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198286. eCollection 2018.


The purpose of this study is to analyse the role of risk perceptions and exposure for protective behaviour against tick bites and the related diseases Lyme borreliosis (LB) and tick-borne encephalitis (TBE), both of which are growing health concerns. We use data from a national survey in Sweden with respondents in geographical areas with substantial differences in both abundance of ticks and incidence of LB and TBE. We find that the share of respondents who frequently use protective clothing (64%), perform tick checks (63%) or avoid tall grass while in areas with ticks (48%) is relatively high. However, the use of protective measures is uneven and a considerably lower share tuck their trousers into their socks (18%), use repellent against ticks (16%) or use a combination of protective measures. Thirty-one per cent of the respondents report one or more tick bites in the last year and 68% report one or more lifetime tick bites, indicating that it is difficult to protect oneself from tick bites. There is a strong positive association between exposure and checking the skin for ticks, but exposure is only weakly associated with other protective measures. Tick bites are perceived as a serious health risk by as many as 43% of the respondents. The perception that a single tick bite is serious is negatively associated with actual exposure to ticks, while the opposite is true for the perception that tick bites constitute a serious lifetime health risk. This indicates a learning effect in relation to risk perceptions and the performance of tick checks, but not in relation to other protective measures. Recommendations include informing people of the risks associated with tick bites, the efficacy of various protective measures and the importance of combining multiple types of protection. Given the high exposure to tick bites, the growing incidence of TBE and LB, and the difficulties in preventing tick bites, other preventive measures should be further discussed, including vaccination programmes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Protective Clothing
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Sweden / epidemiology
  • Tick Bites / epidemiology*
  • Tick Bites / psychology
  • Tick Control / methods*
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / prevention & control
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / psychology
  • Young Adult

Grant support

Support was provided by the Gothenburg Centre for Sustainable Development (http://gmv.gu.se/english) and Region Västra Götaland (http://www.vgregion.se/en) RUN 612-0973-14. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.