Outdoor recreation, tick borne encephalitis incidence and seasonality in Finland, Norway and Sweden during the COVID-19 pandemic (2020/2021)

Infect Ecol Epidemiol. 2023 Nov 18;13(1):2281055. doi: 10.1080/20008686.2023.2281055. eCollection 2023.


During the pandemic outdoor activities were encouraged to mitigate transmission risk while providing safe spaces for social interactions. Human behaviour, which may favour or disfavour, contact rates between questing ticks and humans, is a key factor impacting tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) incidence. We analyzed annual and weekly TBE cases in Finland, Norway and Sweden from 2010 to 2021 to assess trend, seasonality, and discuss changes in human tick exposure imposed by COVID-19. We compared the pre-pandemic incidence (2010-2019) with the pandemic incidence (2020-2021) by fitting a generalized linear model (GLM) to incidence data. Pre-pandemic incidence was 1.0, 0.29 and 2.8 for Finland, Norway and Sweden, respectively, compared to incidence of 2.2, 1.0 and 3.9 during the pandemic years. However, there was an increasing trend for all countries across the whole study period. Therefore, we predicted the number of cases in 2020/2021 based on a model fitted to the annual cases in 2010-2019. The incidences during the pandemic were 1.3 times higher for Finland, 1.7 times higher for Norway and no difference for Sweden. When social restrictions were enforced to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2 there were profound changes in outdoor recreational behavior. Future consideration of public health interventions that promote outdoor activities may increase exposure to vector-borne diseases.

Keywords: COVID-19; COVID-19 restrictions; TBE; public health interventions; seasonality; tick-borne encephalitis.

Grants and funding

The work was supported by the Academy of Finland [VECLIMIT project (decision No #329323)]; EEA Grants [874850 MOOD]; Academy of Finland [VECLIMIT project (decision No #329323)]; Research Council of Norway [project #TimeLyme (313286)].