Fortunately, the long winter months in Canada generally do not allow many of the serious diseases to happen here. Still, learning how to protect yourself can keep you safe and also ease your mind.
Not all bugs are harmful. Insects have six legs, and often one or two pairs of wings. Arachnids, including ticks and spiders, have eight legs. They make contact with us in different ways. Mosquitoes and wasps fly, fleas jump, and ticks crawl and attach themselves to animals. Some, such as grasshoppers, are harmless. Others may bite, cause skin issues or spread disease.
Insects bites can cause itching, skin irritation, redness and rashes. These issues may be limited to just the spot where the insect has bitten. Reactions can also be widespread and serious, as with a full-blown rash or difficulty breathing.
Less commonly, the bite of an insect can spread disease. This possibility will depend on which insect is biting, what germs they carry or spread, and the weather. The number of times someone is bitten and the body’s response also plays a role.
At highest risk are children, the elderly, pregnant women and their unborn children, and people who have health issues like cancer or reduced levels of immunity.
If you travel to areas where there are a lot of insects around all year, you will be at higher risk. This includes Canadian snowbirds in the US and people who travel to warmer places for vacation, as well as those visiting Latin America, Asia or Africa. Before you travel, research what insects at your destination might cause problems. Find out in what areas and at what time of day they are likely to appear.
In Canada, people who go camping, hiking, mountaineering and other outdoor activities are at higher risk of being exposed to insects and the diseases they spread.
The first defence against insect and tick bites is to limit your contact. Although mosquitoes can bite any time, limit outdoor activities at dawn or dusk, especially from the middle of April to the end of September or first frost. Most mosquitoes are most active during these hours.
To limit contact with ticks, avoid trail edges, particularly wooded, bushy areas with tall grass and leaf litter. Walk in the middle of trails and avoid brushing against vegetation.
When inside, make sure screens on windows and doors fit tightly, with no tears or gaps. Ensure that doors close properly. Close off or repair other possible access points for insects (like vents). Use tightly tucked mosquito nets, with no tears, when sleeping in unscreened areas. This is particularly important for infants under six months of age. While under the net, keep exposed skin away from the mesh as some insects can still bite through it.
Since mosquitos prefer standing (stagnant) water when laying eggs, remove it from your property. Change water in bird baths, pet bowls, and watering tanks twice a week. Empty and cover rain barrels with mesh.
Eliminate even small amounts of standing water from ditches and outdoor items like cans, containers, buckets, pots, saucers and tires. Drain pool covers and wading pools. Aerate pools and ponds. Cleaning gutters will prevent clogs that trap water. Keep grass well cut, remove leaf litter, and clear brush. This helps to reduce areas where ticks and the small animals they feed on all like to live.
Wearing light-coloured clothing helps reduce your attractiveness to mosquitoes. It also allows you to see and remove ticks more easily. Note that mosquitoes may be able to bite through thin clothing. Wear a hat, long-sleeved shirt, full-length pants, and closed shoes. Keep ticks and insects away from your skin by closing sleeves with tape or elastic bands. Tuck shirts into pants, and pant legs into socks or boots. When returning from areas where ticks live, check for ticks on clothing and bare skin (and your pets).
Personal insect repellents (better known as bug spray) are chemicals applied to skin and sometimes clothing. They interfere with mosquitoes and ticks, making it hard for them to detect and bite people.
In Canada, insect repellents must be approved and registered by Health Canada. Always be sure that you use properly approved and registered insect repellents.
The length of time that an insect repellent protects you varies depending on the type. Different repellents contain varying chemicals and concentrations. Your actions, including sweating, getting wet and towelling off, also affect the way repellents work.
When used correctly along with other forms of protection, insect repellents can effectively safeguard you and your family.
DEET is a chemical ingredient found in some insect repellents. These products are the most effective against ticks and certain insects. DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide) seems to make people invisible to mosquitoes.
Those aged 12 years or older should use a product with 30 per cent (or less) of DEET. Reapply it when needed, following product directions. Depending on the concentration, each application should provide protection for about six hours. A product with 20 to 30 per cent of DEET can also repel ticks, but the effects may not last as long.
For children between two to 12 years, apply a 10 per cent (or less) DEET product up to three times a day. Each application should protect for about three hours.
With children six months to two years, use only one application of a 10 per cent (or less) DEET product per day. This application should protect around three hours against most mosquitoes. Avoid repeated use.
Do not use products containing DEET on infants under six months of age. Non-chemical forms of protection are advised. For instance, use an intact mosquito net with an elastic edge tightly tucked into a crib, playpen, carrier, stroller or car seat.
Repellents containing DEET are considered safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. However, consider non-chemical forms of protection first, such as avoiding bites and wearing protective clothing.
Repellents can be critical to helping to prevent diseases spread by insects. However, they do contain strong chemicals and so should be used with care. Always read the entire product label carefully before applying a repellent. Follow all directions, including any restrictions on age and number and frequency of daily applications.
If you think you might be sensitive to a product, apply it to a small area of skin on one arm. Wait 24 hours to see if you react before applying it elsewhere.
If you suspect you are reacting to a product, stop using it immediately. Rinse the affected skin with soap and water. If you seek medical attention, take the product container with you.
Only use spray repellents where there is good ventilation. Avoid breathing the mist, and do not get it in your eyes or mouth. Apply it to your hands first and then rub over your face, neck, and around the ears. Wash your hands afterward so you do not get repellent in your eyes or mouth. If it gets in your eyes, immediately rinse them with water for 15 to 20 minutes.
Apply repellents sparingly. It is not necessary to soak yourself. Just use a thin layer – enough to lightly cover exposed skin and the surface of clothing. Do not apply under clothing or on open wounds, cuts, or to irritated or sunburned skin.
Once you no longer need the repellent, as when you return indoors, wash it off with soap and water. Remember to wash treated clothing before wearing it again.
Keep all products out of reach of children and store them according to label directions. Do not allow children to handle insect repellent products. Adults should always apply repellants on children, but not near a child's face or hands. This helps keep the child from breathing the product or getting it in the eyes or mouth.
Although bugs can cause health problems, you can take steps to avoid them. Understanding which ones carry disease and how to avoid them can make a big difference in protecting yourself and your family.