Bugs. There’s nothing quite as annoying as having a fishing trip ruined by swarms of buzzing, biting critters. Blackflies, gnats, mosquitoes, horseflies, deerflies, ticks and any number of other pests have a nasty habit of being most active just when the fishing is at its best. Anyone who’s gone into the backcountry for trout in the springtime or fished for bass on a warm summer evening can attest to that. Today however, bugs have become more than just an aggravation; some of them can pose real health hazards.
Flies are perhaps the most bothersome pest simply because there are so many different species and, at times, they seem to be everywhere, especially in the early part of the bug season. They tend to swarm in huge numbers and seem to be especially fond of buzzing around the head and face. Flies are active during the daytime which makes them an incredible nuisance to anyone participating in outdoor activities.
Although flies are not considered dangerous, that is, they aren’t known carriers of diseases, some of them do pack a nasty bite. Fly bites can range in severity from those that cause some slight bleeding to milder ones that merely cause irritation and itching. The worst thing about fly bites is that people tend to scratch at them. Enough scratching can lead to opening up a small cut at the bite area and this can lead to developing an infection.
To minimize the chances of getting bitten, wear long sleeves and pants and stick to light colors like orange, yellow, light green, and blue. Flies, especially blackflies, are most active in the morning, late afternoon and on warm, overcast days so limit the amount of time you spend outdoors during these periods. Plan your outdoor activities in open areas where the wind can help to keep them at bay and avoid dense bush or swampy areas. If you do venture into the bush or travel near water, as anglers do, a mesh bug net can keep them from landing on you and biting. A good insect repellent, such as Deep Woods Off, will keep flies from landing on you and biting so always apply some before heading outdoors and re-apply it as directed during the day.
Ticks are responsible for the spread of Lyme Disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever; both bacterial infections that can cause serious health problems if left untreated.
Lyme Disease is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected deer tick. A rash may appear around the bite but in most cases the bite will go unnoticed. Because the symptoms of Lyme Disease mimic those of many common illnesses like the common cold, the disease itself is often not accurately diagnosed in its early stages. Symptoms include fatigue, stiff neck, muscle aches, and flu-like symptoms. Left untreated, Lyme disease can cause many serious conditions including irregularities of heart rhythm, abnormalities of the nervous system, and arthritis. More serious symptoms occur in a very small percentage of cases. Lyme disease can be successfully treated with antibiotics at both the early and later stages.
Since 1988, over 100,000 cases of Lyme Disease have been reported in North America. It is most often reported in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast United States, but has also been reported throughout the US and in many parts of Canada.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is a bacterial infection that is transmitted to humans by the bite of an infected wood tick or dog tick. Early symptoms include a fever and headache, followed by the appearance of a rash on the wrists and ankles that will eventually spread over the rest of the body. Fatalities can occur in 5% of cases when treatment is delayed. Fortunately, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is treatable with antibiotics.
The best protection from ticks is to make sure they do not attach themselves to you or your pet. If you are walking in an area that is known for Lyme disease-carrying ticks, make sure your skin is covered, especially below the knee and between your pant-leg and shoes, where ticks commonly land. Once you return home, examine your skin and your pet’s fur for ticks. If you spot one, carefully remove it with tweezers, taking care to remove the whole tick. Insect repellents should not be used on pets but they are effective in keeping ticks from biting humans. Be sure to apply it to any exposed skin as well as to clothing, especially around pant and shirt cuffs.
Mosquitoes are found throughout North America and, depending on where you live, they can be a problem all year round although they are most noticeable from early spring to late fall. They are initially attracted to humans by the carbon dioxide contained in exhaled breath, and they can detect it from up to 6-meters away. Mosquitoes are also drawn to heat, lactic acid and water vapor, all of which are produced by humans as a result of breathing and engaging in physical activity.
It used to be that most North Americans considered mosquitoes to be a pest, plain and simple. Their buzzing was irritating, their bite was itchy and a few people were susceptible to infection or allergic reactions from bites but, for the most part, mosquitoes were nothing more than a nuisance. Since 1999 however, mosquitoes have become a much more sinister pest due to their link to the discovery of West Nile virus in New York City.
Since that initial case, the virus has spread across the eastern United States and was confirmed in Canada in August of 2001, after being discovered in a dead bird from Windsor-Essex County. The West Nile virus has now been confirmed in five provinces – Nova Scotia, Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan, although cases of human infection have only been confirmed in Ontario and Quebec.
Most people who become infected with West Nile Virus experience no symptoms at all while others may experience mild flu-like symptoms which typically last for a few days and there do not appear to be any long-term health concerns related to the disease. Symptoms of the severe form of West Nile disease can include severe headaches, a high fever, stiffness in the neck, muscle weakness, stupor and disorientation. In rare cases, (approximately 1% of all infections) West Nile can cause inflammation of the brain or spinal cord.
For most Canadians, the risk of contracting the West Nile virus infection is low, and the risk of serious health effects from the virus is even lower. Those most at risk of becoming seriously ill include people with weakened immune systems or those suffering from other chronic diseases, youngsters or the elderly. Healthy adults are at less risk but the virus is capable of causing severe illness in people of any age and any health status.
West Nile isn’t the only disease that can be transmitted to humans by mosquitoes. The St. Louis encephalitis virus is similar to West Nile and over 4,000 cases of it have been reported in the United States since 1964. In the early stages, encephalitis symptoms include: severe headaches, fever, nausea & vomiting, chills, disorientation, muscle aches, pain or stiffness. Later on, symptoms develop into paralysis, coma, brain injury or even death. There is no cure for St. Louis Encephalitis. As with West Nile, the young, old or people with weakened immune systems are more likely to experience serious symptoms. On average, 128 new cases of St. Louis encephalitis are reported in the United States annually.
Other mosquito-transmitted diseases include Malaria, Yellow Fever and Dengue. Although these are not currently associated with Canada, they are common in other parts of the world and it is not beyond reason to believe they eventually be transported here.
Since there is currently cure or preventative vaccine against these diseases, preventing mosquito bites is the surest way to avoid running the risk of becoming infected. Mosquitoes are most active at dawn and dusk so try to limit the amount of time you spend outdoors at those times. Avoid wearing perfumes or colognes (which can actually attract mosquitoes) and wear light colored clothing since mosquitoes are attracted by dark colors. By far the best defense is to wear a federally registered bug repellent that includes DEET, such as DeepWoods OFF, or OFF Skintastic.
Whichever repellent you use, effective application is the key to its effectiveness. You don’t need to soak yourself with bug spray; a thin, uniform layer on all exposed skin is all that’s needed to ensure maximum protection. Be sure to read the directions for re-application times. Some repellents will remain effective for up to six-hors while others may need to be re-applied every two or three-hours. A light spray over your clothing, especially where there are openings like cuffs and necklines, will help keep mosquitoes from getting inside of your clothes. Avoid applying bug spray or liquid directly to your face and neck, instead, spray your hands then rub them over these areas.
H. J. Howard