By: Kate Cottrell
When it comes to enjoying outdoor activities in the summer, insects like mosquitoes, ticks, bees and wasps can interfere with the fun.
Insect bites can cause itchiness, allergic reactions,1 and in rare cases, put you at risk for potentially serious illnesses. In Canada, two insect-borne diseases to be aware of are West Nile virus, which mosquitoes can spread, and Lyme disease, which is transmitted by ticks.2
Know the habits of the insects that can be a problem, and use avoidance as your first defense. Mosquitoes breed in standing water, and tend to bite most at dawn and dusk. Not all ticks carry Lyme disease, but the range of infected types of ticks has been expanding. Ticks tend to live in long grass along the edges of forested areas. They are more likely to bite during spring and fall.2 Wasps and bees may gather around flowers and food garbage.
You can use a few simple measures to help avoid these insects. When outdoors, wear light coloured clothing that covers exposed skin, and tuck pant legs into socks. This helps avoid mosquitoes, which are attracted to dark clothing, and allows you to spot ticks more easily. When in a likely habitat, check for ticks daily on pets and all family members, including the head, neck and behind ears and knees.1,2
Insect repellent containing DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide), or icaridin (also known as picaridin) helps to keep both mosquitoes and ticks away. These should not be used on babies younger than 6 months; protect young children with fine netting over playpens, cribs, and strollers. For children between 6 months and 12 years of age, Health Canada recommends using a product containing no more than 10% DEET.2
Dealing with insect bites
Try to avoid scratching insect bites and as a precaution, clean broken skin with soap and water. If a bite or sting doesn’t heal within a few days, remains swollen or painful, or a rash develops around the site, seek medical attention.1
Ticks can attach themselves and continue to feed for 5 days and longer. The sooner they can be removed, the less likely they are to have transmitted Lyme disease if they are carrying it.2
Special tick removing tools are available, but fine tweezers also work. Grasp the tick next to the skin and using steady pressure, pull straight upward without twisting. Wash the area with rubbing alcohol, an iodine scrub or soap and water.2
If the mouth-part of the tick breaks off in the skin and can’t be removed with clean tweezers, do not attempt to dig it out; let it heal. In some areas, health authorities are tracking the presence of ticks carrying Lyme disease; call your local public health unit to find out if you should bring the tick in for testing.2
Did you know?
Wasps don’t leave their stinger in the skin, but bees do. Use your fingernail to scrape away a bee stinger rather than tweezers, which could squeeze the venom into your skin.1
After a wasp or bee sting, clean the area and apply an ice pack or a cold wet cloth to reduce pain. If the sting causes wheezing or difficulty breathing, dizziness or swelling of lips, tongue, or face, these suggest an allergic reaction that could be serious. Seek emergency medical attention.1
- Larissa Hirsch, MD. Bug bites and stings. April 2014. http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/emergencies/insect_bite.html
- Onyett H. Preventing mosquito and tick bites: A Canadian update
Canadian Paediatric Society, Infectious Diseases and Immunization Committee. Paediatr Child Health 2014;19(6):326-328. Posted: Jun 13 2014. http://www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/preventing-mosquito-and-tick-bites