From: Reuters
Published May 17, 2008 09:29 AM

Soccer fans warned of tick danger at Euro 2008

By John Joseph

LONDON (Reuters) - If you are a soccer fan going to watch Euro 2008 it could be worth having a vaccination to prevent catching a little known, but potentially fatal illness that is spread by ticks, a leading scientist warned on Saturday.

In 2007, the number of tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) cases requiring hospital treatment in Europe rose 30 percent to 13,000, with evidence pointing to warmer temperatures caused by global warming helping to spread the disease.

Endemic in 27 countries across Europe, including joint Euro 2008 hosts Switzerland and Austria, TBE can lead to paralysis, coma and in 1 to 2 percent of cases, death.

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Some 2 million foreign fans are expected to descend on Austria and Switzerland for the tournament running from June 7-29, with UEFA expecting around 6 million fans in total.

Based on those figures, Kunze estimates as many as 600 people could be in danger of catching TBE, with fans particularly at risk if they are camping or go hiking when they are not supporting their team.

"It might be more," Professor Michael Kunze, the head of the International Scientific Working Group on TBE, told Reuters in an interview. "If you don't know what you're looking for it's hard to recognize TBE as the symptoms are very flu-like.

"There is an awareness problem with TBE and we have to create awareness among doctors and among travelers. We can prevent TBE, but we cannot treat it.

After introducing a vaccination program in 1981 Austria reduced cases of TBE from 700 to under 70 a year.

Kunze, who said his research was not funded by the two vaccine manufacturers but that they had paid for him to attend conferences, advised travelers to consider having the vaccine, which has a protective effectiveness of about 99 percent.

(Editing by Alison Williams)

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