Published on June 5, 2024 at 8:00 / Updated on June 21, 2024 at 8:01

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.

Prevention

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;
  • Wear clothing treated with the insecticide permethrin;
  • 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.

Directions

  • 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.

ProductsDuration of protectionMinimum age
10% DEET3 hours6 months
20% DEET5 hours12 years
30% DEET6 hours12 years
10% Icaridin5 hours6 months
20% Icaridin8 hours6 months
10% Lemon eucalyptus oil
(p-menthane-3.8-diol)
2 hours3 years

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
  • Garlic
  • Citronella geranium
  • Products containing insect repellent combined with a skin moisturizer or a sun protection

Treatment

When you get an insect bite, here is what you can do:

  • Apply ice or cold compresses to relieve any pain or inflammation.
  • Take a pain reliever such as acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol).
  • Take an antihistamine by mouth to reduce inflammation and itching (e.g. Benadryl, Reactine).
  • Apply an anesthetic such as benzocaine or pramoxine (e.g., Aveeno anti-itch) , calamine lotion or a cortisone derivative (e.g., hydrocortisone cream) to help reduce itching;
  • If the insect has a stinger:
    • remove the stinger as soon as possible to minimize any local reaction;
    • wash the area with soap and water to prevent infection.

If a severe allergic reaction occurs, a dose of epinephrine (e.g., Epipen) may be necessary. 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.

When should I see a health care professional?

Consult your health care professional if:

  • you have a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis): see a healthcare professional immediately;
  • you have a reaction that spreads over a wide area;
  • you have a sting on the tongue or around the mouth;
  • you have had a severe reaction to a sting;
  • you have signs of infection (such as redness, heat, pus, fever);
  • you notice that the treatment is ineffective after 7 days;
  • you think you are having a reaction to an insect repellent.

For more information:

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