With a long winter behind us, most Canadians are looking forward to spending more time outdoors. Whether you’re hiking, camping or just being lazy at the lake, health experts say it’s always important to keep an eye out for summer bugs.
Canada has a wide range of bugs and insects, says Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, but the majority of them won’t seriously hurt you.
“The vast majority of insects that bite are really only a nuisance, meaning that it might cause a little bit of pain,” he told Global News. “It’s only a handful of bugs that can cause severe problems.”
“Of all the bug bites that are going to occur in Canada this year, a relatively small proportion of them are going to result to a medical issue, that’s the big picture.”
Below, Bogoch breaks down the most common creatures we see in Canada during the summer, as well as how to protect yourself.
“Lyme is transmitted by tick bites and ticks that transmit Lyme are present across the country,” he explained. “It’s not entirely clear what the boundaries of these ticks are.”
If you’re are bitten by a tick with a potential for Lyme disease, speak to your doctor right away if you think you have symptoms.
Bogoch says to protect yourself, wear insect repellent if you’re going to any grassland or wooded areas, and when you return home, make sure you conduct a full tick check from head to toe.
Mosquitoes are not only a huge nuisance but some also carry infection.
“Later on in the summer we start to see cases of West Nile virus, the mosquito-transmitted infection,” he said. “In the past few years there haven’t been that many cases of West Nile virus in the country, but it’s certainly a possibility.”
READ MORE: Insect repellent – does natural beat DEET?
Bogoch adds the majority of people who end up getting the virus have no symptoms or mild symptoms like a fever, headache, muscle aches and pains or fatigue. They generally feel unwell for a couple of days, and most were not ill enough to see the doctor. He adds there are rare forms of severe West Nile virus, but the majority of us will just have to deal with bites.
Use a repellent with at least 30 per cent DEET, he said, and don’t forget to reapply.
Bees, wasps, hornets
Bee and wasp bites are extremely painful, but they don’t carry any infections, Bogoch says. Anyone who has an allergic reaction tend to keep EpiPens, but for the majority of us, it is just dealing with the initial painful bite and washing out the area as quickly as possible.
It’s hard to avoid bees and wasps during summer months, but if you can, don’t irritate them.
Horse flies, black flies
If you are working in Northern Ontario or even the Northern prairie provinces, you should expect horseflies and black flies. “The bites hurt, but they are not going to pose any significant risk,” Bogoch said, adding that for people who spend a lot of time outdoors, it could feel like being eaten alive.
To protect yourself, wear insect repellent and try not to expose skin.
Canada has many different types of spiders, and believe it or not there are even some venomous ones. “They are extraordinarily rare and timid, but the southern parts of Canada have black widow spiders,” Bogoch noted.
Most spiders are harmless. If you experience a black widow bite, wash it with water right away and seek medical attention.
They aren’t special to summer, but Bogoch says we should keep an eye out for bed bugs when we travel.
“They don’t transmit infections, but they can bite,” he said, adding some people end up with itchy red welts all over their bodies.
The most frustrating thing about bed bugs is removing them from your home or not bringing them with you in the first place. If you suspect bed bugs, deep clean your sheets and mattress or contact a professional cleaning service.
“We have a few types of biting ants, but they don’t transmit infections,” Bogoch said. Ants are also a nuisance, but known complications from ant bites are very rare.
During summer months, many of them make nests, he adds. If you want to avoid bites, avoid nests.