Swiss Government Recommending Meningoencephalitis Vaccination for 2019

Switzerland reported 377 cases of tick-borne encephalitis during 2018

swiss apls in the spring matterhorn peak

Cases of tick-borne encephalitis in Switzerland reached a record high in 2018 with 377 cases, reported the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH). 

Tick-borne encephalitis virus (TBEV) can cause severe meningoencephalitis.

In response to this negative trend, the FOPH is recommending vaccination against meningoencephalitis throughout Switzerland during 2019. 

This Swiss vaccination program is recommended for both adults and children, who are above the age of six, who are living in or staying in Switzerland. 

This recommendation does not include the Swiss cantons of Geneva and Ticino, which are located in southern Switzerland, near Italy. 

But, the Swiss government is recommending vaccination as soon as they leave their canton and they expose themselves to infected ticks. 

This Swiss announcement is important since there is no treatment for this viral disease that can reach the central nervous system and lead to serious complications, such as paralysis of the arms, legs or nerves of the face. 

And, in some cases, meningoencephalitis has a fatal outcome.  

TBEV is caused by 2 closely related viruses of the family Flaviviridae: the central European encephalitis (CEE) virus, found in many European countries, and the Russian spring-summer encephalitis (RSSE) virus, found predominantly in the Asian parts of the former Soviet Union, says the European Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC).   

These viruses are closely related to Omsk hemorrhagic fever virus in Siberia, Kyasanur Forest disease virus in India, and its close relative, Alkhurma virus in Saudi Arabia. 

From 2000 through 2015, there were just 7 cases of TBEV among US travelers to Europe and China, says the CDC. 

Winter is the best time to get vaccinated, before the period during which ticks are most active (April to October), says the Swiss government. 

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The first vaccine against TBEV was prepared in 1941. Some 20 years later TBEV vaccines derived from cell cultures (chicken embryo fibroblast cells) were developed and used for active immunization in humans in the former Soviet Union, says the WHO.   

Later, a purified, inactivated virus vaccine was developed which proved to be more immunogenic than previous TBEV vaccines. 

There are 2 inactivated cell culture-derived TBEV vaccines available in Europe, in adult and pediatric formulations: FSME-IMMUN (Baxter, Austria) and Encepur (Novartis, Germany). 

Two other inactivated TBEV vaccines are available in Russia: TBE-Moscow (Chumakov Institute, Russia) and EnceVir (Microgen, Russia). And, 1 other TBEV vaccine is produced in China, but information regarding this vaccine is not available in the English literature. 

The immunization protection lasts 10-years after receiving the 3 doses of the basic vaccination. Ticks in Switzerland do transmit other diseases, which the vaccine does not protect. 

Currently, there is not a CDC approved TBEV vaccine available in the United States.

As of February 5, 2019, the CDC is not recommending this vaccine to American visitors to Switzerland.

Also, there is not a Lyme disease vaccine in the USA. 

But, there is some good news for Americans.

On January 31st, 2019, Valneva SE announced final Phase 1 study data and positive initial booster data for its Lyme Disease vaccine candidate VLA15.

The address for sending questions is Federal Office of Public Health, Communication, +41 58 462 95 05, [email protected].