Summer has officially started!! That means people will be spending more time outdoors, traveling and attending plenty of backyard barbecues.

All of this time outdoors increases the likelihood of encountering pets or wild animals, and everyone needs to stay safe! Everything is great until you are chased by a dog on your morning run or return from your walk along the trail only to discover a tick decided to hitch a ride on your leg or on your pet.

Animal bites can be a real pain, literally! Rabies is the number one concern when a person is bit by an animal. Rabies is a virus that is transmitted through saliva and causes inflammation in the brain of humans and other mammals. It has a high mortality rate once symptoms begin, but it is also 100% preventable with prompt medical care.

While rabies is not terribly prevalent here in Germany, there are many people constantly moving into and out of the area who have been places where it is a problem, think Africa and Eastern Europe. That being said, wild animals, particularly bats have been known to act as rabies vectors. If a person has an encounter with a bat (bitten or wake up to find a bat in the room) it is highly recommended they seek treatment.

According to the CDC, your first step when bitten by an animal should be to clean the wound as soon as possible with soap and water to decrease the chance for infection. Next, head to the emergency room or clinic. Try to have as much information as possible about the incident such as what kind of animal it was, where you were, the owner's name, and the owner's phone number. Even though rabies is not known to be a problem here, medical professionals will prefer to observe the animal for symptoms. Rabies or no, this also allows for the identification of dangerous or aggressive animals in the area.

That information will be asked of you when you go to the ER or clinic. These questions are important because it helps the primary care provider determine the course of action required for your care. If the animal can be observed by the veterinary clinic or if documentation can be provided that shows the animal is up to date on its rabies vaccination, you may not require post exposure treatment.

The arrival of summer also means your pets will be spending more time outdoors as well. The easiest way to prevent rabies is to ensure that your pets are kept up-to-date with their rabies vaccinations. If you have frequent interaction with animals, stray animals in particular, the rabies vaccine is highly encouraged.

For people, if you have been bitten, you will get a four-shot series spread out over 14 days. A person taking the vaccine for preventive measure will get a three-shot series spread out over one month.

Also a concern during warmer months, not only for pets, but people too, are ticks. Ticks are very small and as a result, really good at hiding. Especially since they like to live in wooded and grassy areas. If you are walking your pet in a place surrounded by trees and bushes and discover a tick has decided to attach itself to you or your pet, don't panic!

According to the CDC, you should use a fine-tipped pair of tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin's surface as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure and do not twist or jerk the tick. Despite popular belief, ticks should not be removed using nail polish, Vaseline, or burning it. This is can actually increase the likelihood of disease transmission.

Once removed, the tick should be placed in an airtight container that cannot be crushed and taken to your nearest military treatment facility. This allows for the tick to be tested to determine if it is carrying a disease causing pathogen.

According to Capt. Kristine Moss, Veterinary Medical Center Europe Chief of Outpatient services, Pet owners are highly encouraged to "apply flea/tick/intestinal parasite prevention monthly right now due to the increased prevalence of ticks and the risk of infectious disease - pets are a sentinel species for disease risk for people in the house - for example, if a pet tests positive for Lyme disease, the owners need to be aware that they may also be exposed".

Specific to being here in Germany, there is a particular tick that causes Tick-borne encephalitis. TBE can affect the central nervous system and can result in permanent disability.

According to Public Health Command Europe, "since TBE does not exist in the United States, there is no Food and Drug Administration licensed vaccination against TBE available. However, there are vaccines that have been determined by the European Medicines Agency to be very safe and effective against TBE. These are available in Europe and require three shots over six months".

Because the vaccine is not FDA approved, military treatment facilities do not carry the vaccine. However, you can receive a referral to a Host Nation provider. The TBE vaccine is a covered TRICARE benefit for individuals living in Europe. If you are interested in getting the vaccine, contact your primary care manager to receive a referral.

In addition to ticks and rabies, it is also important to protect your pet against heat injuries. You should not leave your pet in the car during the summer months unless the car is running and the air conditioner is on. Additionally, dark asphalt can hurt your pet. When temperatures rise, do not force your pet to walk along dark asphalt surfaces, this can result in significant heat injuries for your pet. If you are concerned about your pet, seek advice from a veterinary professional.

So in the end, we want have you to have a fantastic summer and stay safe in the process. If nothing else, remember if you were to get bit by a dog, wash the wound immediately and head to the emergency room or clinic. If you are bit by a tick, remove it with tweezers and place it in a non-crushable container to be tested for tick-borne diseases. Also, don't forget about your pets. They can be subject to heat injuries as well.

For more tips on keeping your family healthy and safe, visit the Regional Health Command Europe Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RHCEurope/.