Some itching and scratching from a tick or mosquito bite may be annoying but it’s more serious illnesses that should persuade you to protect yourself.
“It is important to spend time outdoors, exercising and enjoying nature as this leads to many health benefits but insects like ticks and mosquitoes can carry diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile virus,” said Eleni Galanis, physician epidemiologist at the BC Centre for Disease Control. “Thankfully, these diseases are rare in B.C. and steps can be taken to avoid bites.”
The best way to avoid bites is to cover up and wear long sleeves and pants
Small insects known as ticks carry Lyme disease
and while it is much more common in the eastern parts of Canada, it is something to be aware of if you live in or visit south-west B.C. Lyme disease can be treated successfully with antibiotics in its early stages but if left untreated, it can lead to chronic infection.
To protect yourself from Lyme disease, check for ticks after a trip to the park or woods. Some family pets, like dogs, can also get infected so it’s important to check them too. If you get a tick bite, remove the tick early and be on the lookout for early signs of infection such as headache or muscle and joint pain, fatigue and fever. About 70 to 80 per cent of people will get a skin rash that is not itchy or painful but may look like a bull’s eye. If you experience these symptoms within about 30 days of getting a tick bite or hiking or visiting a grassy, wooded area, visit your doctor and tell them you suspect you got a tick bite.
Check for ticks and take action
- Check yourself, your children and your pets after a hike or walk in wooded or grassy areas (make sure you check the full body especially in the hair, under the arms, in and around the ears, the belly button, behind the knees and between the legs)
- Shower or bathe within two hours of being outdoors so you can check for tick and remove ticks that have not attached yet
- If you find a tick, use tweezers to immediately remove it by grabbing onto its head and pulling it straight out
- Wash the bite with soap and water or alcohol-based sanitizer
- If you don’t feel well, contact your health care provider and tell them you got a tick bite
- Keep the tick in a closed container and bring it with you to see your health care provider
- Put dry outdoor clothes in a dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to kill any remaining ticks
West Nile virus
Mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus
and it infects birds, horses and humans. While most people who get infected will have no symptoms, it can be serious for others. Some people will develop flu-like symptoms but in rare cases (less than one per cent), it can lead to severe complications such as swelling of the brain or paralysis. The chances of having a severe illness increase as you get older or if you have a weakened immune system.
West Nile virus infection is extremely rare in B.C. but the areas with the highest risk are the B.C. Interior and the Fraser Valley.
How to avoid an insect bite
Luckily the same rules apply to both mosquitoes and ticks:
- Use insect repellent that contains DEET or Icaridin
- Stay on cleared paths and avoid tramping through long grasses or brushy area
- Cover up – wear light coloured clothing and while it might be hot out, consider wearing long sleeves and pants
- Make a fashion statement - tuck your shirt into your pants and your pants into your socks
- Keep ticks and mosquitoes away from your home and garden by getting rid of all standing water and keeping grass, brush and weeds short
- Ensure you have screens on your doors and windows or keep them closed so that mosquitoes do not enter your home