In addition to being unpleasant, insect bites can lead to a variety of health problems, some of which can be serious. In fact, the West Nile virus is transmitted by mosquitoes, and ticks transmit Lyme disease. Adequate protection is therefore important.
The best way to protect yourself is to avoid being bitten.
To reduce your risk, you can take steps to prevent bug bites, such as:
- Avoid products that contain fragrances, such as perfumes, and cover food when eating outside;
- Get rid of mosquito breeding sites by emptying standing water (e.g., remove water from pool cover, clean gutters regularly);
- Install screens on doors and windows;
- Avoid being outdoors at dusk and dawn when mosquitoes are most active;
- Wear long, light-coloured clothing. Mosquitoes are not as attracted to light-coloured clothing and they allow you to see ticks more easily;
- Tuck your shirt into your pants and pull your socks up over your pant legs;
- Wear a hat and closed shoes, avoid sandals;
- Use insect repellent (bug spray).
Insect repellent (bug spray)
Repellents help reduce the risk of mosquito and tick bites but are not effective against bees, hornets and wasps.
- Read the entire label before applying;
- Spray in open, ventilated areas, well away from food. Do not spray in closed areas such as a tent;
- Apply the product lightly, just enough to cover clothing and exposed skin. Do not apply under clothing;
- Do not spray directly onto the face. Spray on hands first and then apply to the face;
- Avoid contact with the eyes. If spray gets into the eyes, rinse thoroughly with water;
- Do not apply on the child's hands to avoid contact with the eyes and mouth;
- Do not use repellent on irritated or sunburnt skin or on an open wound;
- Repeat application only if necessary, according to the manufacturer's recommendations;
- Wash the repellent off with soap and water as soon as protection is no longer required.
Choosing a repellent:
There are many products available in Canada. Choice is based, among other things, on the person's age, required duration of protection and product efficacy. Speak to your pharmacist for further advice.
|Products||Duration of protection||Minimum age|
|10% DEET||3 hours||6 months|
|20% DEET||5 hours||12 years|
|30% DEET||6 hours||12 years|
|10% Icaridin||5 hours||6 months|
|20% Icaridin||8 hours||6 months|
|10% Lemon eucalyptus oil||2 hours||3 years|
** In Canada, the use of insect repellent is not indicated in children younger than 6 months of age. Speak to your pharmacist for further advice.
Keep in mind that only DEET containing more than 20% and icaridin are considered effective against ticks. Also, the duration of protection is shorter for ticks than for mosquitoes.
Not recommended for protection
Certain products are not advised because there is insufficient evidence to support their efficacy, because of their short duration of action or because they may be harmful. Here are a few examples:
- Electronic or ultrasonic devices
- Electrocuting devices (zappers)
- Wristbands, neckbands and ankle bands impregnated with repellents
- Odour-baited mosquitoes traps
- vitamin B1 taken orally
- Citronella geranium
- Skin moisturizer/insect repellent combinations
What should you do if you are stung?
If the insect has a stinger, remove it as soon as possible to minimize any local reaction. Afterwards, wash the area with soap and water to prevent infection. You may apply ice or cold compresses to relieve any pain or inflammation. Medications such as analgesics, which relieve pain (e.g., Tylenol or Advil), antihistamines (e.g., Benadryl, Reactine) and calamine lotion, which help to reduce inflammation and itchiness, can be used. Do not hesitate to speak to your pharmacist.
If a severe allergic reaction occurs, a dose of epinephrine (e.g., Epipen) may be necessary. Your pharmacist can show you how to self-inject. If such a reaction does occur, get emergency treatment as soon as possible. Wearing a Medic Alert bracelet or carrying a card advising others that you are allergic to stings is also advised.
See a doctor if any of the following symptoms develop:
- Severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis). See a healthcare professional immediately;
- Reaction that spreads over a wide area;
- Sting on the tongue or around the mouth;
- Prior severe reaction to a sting;
- Sign of infection;
- Ineffective treatment after 7 days;
- Any other reaction that causes you concern.
For more information:
Insect repellents - Government of Canada