Beat the Bugs!

With the arrival of warmer weather, thoughts turn to family barbeques, pool parties and spending more time in the great outdoors. Even getting outside to do yard work seems appealing after being stuck indoors over the frigid winter months. The last thing you want to deal with though, is being attacked by bugs.

There are many different varieties of insects that bite or sting, and some can definitely ruin your outdoor activities. It’s hard to enjoy yourself when you’re constantly swatting these pesky creatures. However, with a little preparation and some caution, you can minimize the effects that biting bugs might have on your day.

The Usual Suspects

Here’s a line-up of the most common offenders:

Mosquitoes

Probably one of the most consistently annoying, mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn. They typically hatch around areas of stagnant water and can carry the very serious West Nile Virus.

Bees, Wasps & Hornets

They normally won’t bother you if you don’t bother them. You should also think twice about trying to kill these ones, as they benefit the environment by pollinating plants and killing crop-eating pests.

Black Flies

Likely #2 on the list for general annoyance, these biters are active early in the season, between mid-May and the end of June. Unlike mosquitoes, they like it hot and will attack during the day.

Ticks

Ticks are found in forested areas and can carry Lyme disease and other serious ailments. Be sure to check yourself and your pets carefully if you’ve been out in the woods, and you can remove them by carefully extracting with tweezers. A course of antibiotics from your doctor can help if you’ve had one on you for longer than 24 hours.

Spiders

Spider bites are more rare, and you’re not likely to get bitten unless you disturb a nest. There are some more aggressive and venomous types found in the U.S. and around the world though. If you DO get a bite, it’s important to know the type of spider before you seek medical attention.

Basic Prevention

Mosquitoes, black flies and ticks need your blood to survive, while bees and wasps will sting if they feel threatened. In any case, there are some things that you can do to help prevent being on the menu.

  • If you plan on being in areas where insects congregate, be sure to wear long pants and sleeves. Light-coloured, loose clothing with a smooth texture is best. Also avoid loud, colourful clothing as this is like ringing the dinner bell for bugs.
  • The use of insect repellants is one of the most effective ways of keeping pests at bay. Products containing DEET work best, but there are also some natural products on the market if you prefer not to use chemicals.
    • Read all directions carefully
    • Use sparingly, apply to all exposed skin and avoid areas around the eyes & mouth
    • Wash repellants off once you’re back indoors
    • Avoid products with concentrations of DEET over 50%
    • Minimize use if you are pregnant or nursing
    • Apply to children only once per day and with products not exceeding 30% DEET
    • Don’t apply to children under the age of 6 months
  • Insects are typically attracted to sugary substances, so it’s best to avoid the use of sweet smelling fragrances or beauty products
  • In dense brush or at peak periods for insect activity, you should tuck-in your shirt and tuck your pants into your boots. Duct taping your pant legs and sleeves to restrict access to the more aggressive types is also a good plan. If it gets really bad, there are insect jackets and hoods available that can be very effective.
  • Swatting and waving your arms at wasps or hornets just makes them more agitated. If you find them close by, simply back away quietly and they’ll likely just ignore you.
  • Keep an eye out for both hanging hives and ground nests when hiking or working outdoors. Give them lots of clearance so as not to disturb the residents.
  • Flowering plants and bushes are a big attraction for bees and wasps. Avoid getting too close to them, especially if you have bite allergies.
  • Keep garbage and recycling bins clean and use lids where possible, as these areas tend to attract insects
  • When eating outdoors, keep your food and drinks covered and put items away as soon as you can
  • For periods of high insect activity, opt to use a screened-in porch or gazebo to simply avoid interacting with flying pests
  • There are a variety of effective insect repellants and traps that can help to make your outdoor living space more tolerable. These would include foggers, coils, ‘zapper’ type lamps, propane powered traps, citronella candles etc.
  • Don’t attempt to remove hives unless you really know what you’re doing. Cooler evening hours are best due to lower insect activity, and avoid any ladder gymnastics for those hard to reach ones.

First Aid / Allergies

For the majority of insect bites and stings, the discomfort is short-lived and there typically aren’t any long-term effects. Allergic reactions are a different situation of course, and they require a specific response.

  • If you know that you have a specific insect allergy, you’ll need to be extra diligent when spending time outdoors. Avoid areas where insects gather (flowering plants etc.) and be sure to have an epinephrine dose (Epi-pen) close-by in the event that you do get stung. Immediate medical attention is still recommended even with the application of epinephrine.
  • If you suffer from severe reactions, wearing a Medic-Alert bracelet is a good idea, as well as having a buddy-system where you have someone with you as back-up in high-risk areas.
  • If you experience multiple stings (especially children), have trouble breathing, experience dizziness or develop severe hives, seek medical attention right away.
  • For most non-allergy cases, you can reduce pain and swelling with cold compresses, ice packs, topical astringents, cold or oatmeal baths. Oral antihistamines can also help with the itching.

We can share our outdoor spaces with biting and stinging insects if we take the time to prepare properly. It’s just one of those things that we have to deal with at certain times of the year.

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