The Cypress Health Region is reminding you to apply precautions during the spring and summer months to avoid or minimize the possibility of insect and animal bites that can lead to various diseases as well as inconveniences.
Two insects of importance are mosquitoes and ticks. In the early spring and summer, various species of mosquito emerge and cause a nuisance as well as itchy red spots where they bite. These mosquitoes, however, do not carry disease of significance to humans. Later in summer, a species of mosquito called the Culex tarsalis emerges and multiplies to significant numbers. This mosquito feeds on birds, horses, and humans. It can pick West Nile Virus from migrating birds and spread this to humans.
Ticks are small, ranging in size from a poppy seed to a pea. Their size depends on variables such as age and time of their last feed. The most common found in Saskatchewan is the American dog tick, also known as a wood tick, and does not transmit disease of significance to humans. The blacklegged tick, also known as the deer tick, can carry disease with a bacterial infection that causes Lyme disease. It is common in parts of the USA and Manitoba, but has now started to appear in parts of Saskatchewan, mainly the Qu’Appelle Valley.
Lyme disease is difficult to diagnose due to its differing symptoms from person to person. Signs and symptoms of Lyme disease may include, with varying severity: fatigue, fever and chills, headache, spasms/weakness, numbness/tingling, skin rash, dizziness, nervous system disorders, and abnormal heartbeat, among others. If you develop these symptoms in the weeks after a known tick bite, please contact your healthcare provider immediately. If you saved the tick that bit you, bring it to your medical appointment as it may help the physician assess you and can also be sent for testing. You may also directly submit ticks for testing to the University of Saskatchewan’s Chilton Parasitology Laboratory in the Biology Department.
Wearing closed-toed shoes, long-sleeved shirts, and pants with socks pulled over the bottom of the pant leg are important measures to protect yourself, particularly if you venture into forests or overgrown areas. Wearing light coloured clothing and using insect repellent containing DEET or Icaridin (read and follow directions on label) will also help prevent unwanted insects from coming in contact with you. If you have been outside for an extended period of time, shower or bathe afterwards to wash away loose ticks and do daily body checks on yourself, your children, and your pets. Staying indoors, eliminating standing water, and sealing holes in screens and doors are other preventative measures to consider. For those with allergies to stings, make sure you know of the medicines to access and what medical attention to seek when necessary.
Various animal bites are reported each summer: dogs, domestic and stray cats, bats, raccoons and beavers, gophers, and others. Some of these animals, especially in the wild or if they have been with infected animals in the wild, can carry and transmit the virus responsible for rabies. Avoid getting close to these animals and be careful even when approaching domestic animals that are not familiar with you. In the event of a bite, seek proper medical attention.
Another danger posed in southwest Saskatchewan is that of the prairie rattlesnake. These venomous snakes are capable of causing tissue destruction, swelling, internal bleeding, and intense pain.
If you or somebody you are with is bitten by a rattlesnake the following important steps should be followed:
- Do not cut the bite area, or use suction, or try to apply a tourniquet, or apply ice.
- Remain as calm as possible and don‘t panic. Around 25% of bites from venomous snakes may be dry bites.
- Call 9-1-1 to request medical attention and ambulance as quickly as possible.
- Snakebites are medical emergencies. Quick assessment in a hospital is necessary. There is a time frame in which to safely transport the person bitten to a treatment facility.
- Carefully remove jewellery from the affected limb in case of swelling.
- Carry the victim, if possible, or help them to remain calm, inactive, and in a semi-sitting position until help arrives.
- Keep the affected limb below the level of the heart.
- Cleanse the wound if possible.
- Splint the affected limb loosely to reduce movement (if splint material is at hand).
“As the weather continues to warm up, the likelihood of encountering and getting tick, other insect, as well as animal bites increases. It is wise to be mindful of the preventative techniques that help protect one from these encounters, and enjoy a bite-free summer,” commented Dr. David Torr, Consulting Medical Health Officer for Cypress Health.