Wellness

What bugs to watch out for this summer

After months and months (and months) of winter, summer is finally upon us!

So, instead of ice and snow to complain about, now it’s bugs.

Some are just a bit creepy or annoying. I share my house with a few live-in spiders, but they keep to themselves. And there’s been a fruit fly in my office for days (No fruit. Just one fruit fly.)

But which bugs do we have to be particularly wary of this time of year?

Ticks and mosquitoes, says Sunnybrook infectious diseases specialist and microbiologist Dr. Samira Mubareka.

“Both ticks and mosquitoes can carry pathogens that can make humans sick,” she said. “Not every bug is infected, so don’t panic if you get bit. But it’s best for us to remain aware and take precautions.”

Let’s start with ticks. These little creepy crawlies have been in the news in recent years as their numbers have been on the rise and they’ve been found in urban areas.

“We are talking about black-legged, hard-bodied ticks,” Dr. Mubareka said. “They can transmit a whole range of bacteria, including Lyme disease.”

Ticks carrying Lyme disease have been found parts in Toronto, she added. It is a serious infectious disease that can cause life-long symptoms.

Not every tick carries the disease, Dr. Mubareka reminds us, but adult bugs, nymphs and larvae — though very tiny — can all pass along the bacteria.

“The little larvae and nymphs are difficult to notice on your skin, so it’s important that you give your body a close check after being in an area that could contain ticks.”

These bugs dwell in tall grassy areas and dead leaf piles, so wear long pants, longs sleeves and socks if you are hiking, playing or working in these kinds of environments.

“In the springtime, ticks show ‘questing’ behaviours — they stand on the edge of a blade of grass with their arms and legs outstretched, hoping to latch on to the next thing that walks by,” Dr. Mubareka explains.

If you develop a target lesion — a rash shaped like a bulls-eye — seek medical attention. If you find a tick on yourself, your children, or your pet, it can be removed with fine-tipped tweezers. Call Toronto Public Health 416-338-7600 to find out more about getting the tick tested.

Now, anyone who has lived in Toronto even for a short time knows about Canada’s dear friend nuisance the mosquito.

Besides their often itchy and irritating bites, they can also carry pathogens, most common being West Nile Virus.

“While most people suffer no symptoms or illness from West Nile — maybe just a mild fever and headache— the elderly or immune-compromised can become severely ill,” Dr. Mubareka said.

Public Health does testing for West Nile – mosquito surveillance and dead birds – and last summer, the virus was found in Toronto.

To help protect you and your family from tick and mosquito – and other – bug bites, follow these tips:

  • Wear long pants, long sleeves and socks if you’ll be in long grassy areas or dead leaves.
  • Kill their habitats. Remove leaf litter. Dump out standing water. Mow your lawn regularly.
  • Wear DEET bug spray
  • Do tick checks – look over your whole body and check your kids / family and pets. The longer the tick is attached, the higher likelihood it will transmit a bacteria.

 

Find out more:

Government of Ontario

Toronto Public Health

 

 

A version of this column appears in the Leaside Streeter.

About the author

Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.

Have a question about this post? Get in touch.