How to Treat and Prevent Insect Bites this Summer

Summer should be remembered for its endless sunshine and balmy temperatures, not irritating bug bites. Avoid summer’s itch with the following preventative strategies and treatment tips.

How to Treat and Prevent Insect Bites this Summer

1. Mosquitoes

Summer’s most unwelcome guests will feast on birds, animals and you. If a mosquito bites a bird infected with West Nile virus, it can pass on the illness to its human prey. The Public Health Agency of Canada states that mosquito season can start in mid-April and extend until the first frost in early October.

Prevention: Don’t make yourself available for their next meal – stay indoors during dawn and dusk when mosquitoes are active. If you must go outside, Dr. Jonathan Kerr, a Belleville, Ontario family physician recommends wearing long sleeves and pants to shield your skin. You can also use bug repellents with DEET. Dr. Kerr reminds parents, however, that DEET products shouldn’t be used on small children. “For little kids, just keep them away from bugs and covered up with clothing,” he says.

Bite Treatment: Dr. Kerr recommends applying an over-the-counter anti-itch remedy such as After Bite or calamine lotion. And don’t scratch – you’ll make the bite site red, itchy and could trigger a skin infection. If within two to 15 days of being bitten, you develop flu-like symptoms or experience confusion, muscle weakness or paralysis, seek medical attention immediately to rule out West Nile virus.

2. Bees and Wasps

Summer brings on our love-hate relationship with bees and wasps. Bumblebees, famous for their gardening skills, help summer bloom. Wasps, however, have a well-earned reputation as an unwanted pest.

Prevention: Insect repellent won’t keep wasps and bees away, so avoidance is key. The Ontario Ministry of Health recommends staying away from garbage bins where wasps tend to gather. To steer clear of bees, wear light coloured clothing, don’t use scented shampoos or perfume and avoid flowering plants. If a bee or wasp is flying around you, refuse the temptation to swat it away; sudden movements can provoke the insect to sting.

Sting Treatment: If stung by a bee, use your fingernail to remove the stinger. Don’t use tweezers. They could squeeze venom from the stinger into your wound. Wasp stingers don’t remain in your skin after an attack. Clean the area with soap and water and if you feel pain at the site, Dr. Kerr recommends taking a pain reliever. Unfortunately, some people can experience an anaphylactic reaction. “If your lips are swelling, it’s getting harder to breathe, or your throat is tightening up, get straight to emergency,” says Dr. Kerr. “Don’t assume that the symptoms will go away. If it is an allergy, it won’t go away without life-saving medication.”

3. Black Flies

You’re not the only one who loves cottage country. Black flies do too. Their bites cause painful and itchy red welts. Depending on where you live, black fly season can begin as early as May and last into late August. According to Alberta Agriculture, black flies are more likely to attack during morning, late afternoon, and early evening. They’re also more prevalent when a storm is on the horizon, and in wooded areas.

Prevention: Dr. Kerr recommends wearing long sleeved tops and long pants to guard against bites – black flies cannot bite through fabric. They’re also attracted to dark colours, so avoid wearing black, blue, purple or brown clothes. Bug repellents with DEET can dissuade black fly attacks.

Bite Treatment: Clean the area with warm water and soap, followed by an application of an anti-itch product. If the itching and pain is interfering with your sleep or work, Dr. Kerr suggests taking an over-the-counter antihistamine such as Claritin or Benadryl to reduce itching and swelling. He also recommends consulting your physician if the bites aren’t healing or seem more painful than usual.

4. Ticks

“When ticks bite, they hold on,” says Dr. Kerr. “They bury their head into your skin and suck your blood. They’re like little vampires.” Ticks can transmit Lyme disease, a rare neurological condition.

Prevention: Health Canada recommends that you wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants and closed shoes if you’re frequenting tall grassy trails and wooded areas – places where ticks lurk. Tucking your shirt into your pants and rolling your socks over the bottom of your pant legs will provide extra skin protection. After time outdoors, check your body, clothing – even your pets – for ticks.

Bite Treatment: First remove the tick with tweezers. “Gently pull it out. You don’t want to rip off the body and leave the head in you,” says Dr. Kerr. Within 48 to 72 hours of being bitten, see a doctor as soon as possible and bring the tick with you. “We can send it to Public Health,” says Dr. Kerr. They’ll test the tick to see if it carries Lyme disease. While you wait a few days for the results, the doctor may start you on antibiotics as a preventative measure.

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