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Safer Summer Activity

Jun 28, 2016
The warm, inviting weather of summer creates an ideal opportunity for physical activity, such as hiking, cycling or enjoying time in a park alone or with friends and family. Beyond the benefits of physical activity, time spent in green space can improve people’s health and mental wellbeing. Research is showing the positive relationship between time in green space (parks, trails, gardens, playing fields, school yards, wooded areas, and other natural areas) and people’s health, both for children and adults.

By Dr. Charles Gardner

Portrait of Dr. Charles Gardner, Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of HealthThe warm, inviting weather of summer creates an ideal opportunity for physical activity, such as hiking, cycling or enjoying time in a park alone or with friends and family. Beyond the benefits of physical activity, time spent in green space can improve people’s health and mental wellbeing. Research is showing the positive relationship between time in green space (parks, trails, gardens, playing fields, school yards, wooded areas, and other natural areas) and people’s health, both for children and adults.

When reports emerge of mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus and ticks carrying Lyme disease, people may be deterred from experiencing the outdoors. Warnings of a high UV index may also prevent people from going outside. Certainly, people need to take precautions, but the risks can be overcome and we can still enjoy all that Simcoe Muskoka's outdoors have to offer.

West Nile virus is carried by some species of mosquitoes, however the number of reported cases of transmission to people in Simcoe Muskoka has been low, and risk of transmission can be further reduced by taking steps to reduce mosquito bites. As well, in Simcoe Muskoka to date, the prevalence of black-legged ticks identified carrying the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease in has been lower than in more heavily affected areas in southern Ontario. So far this year, among the many ticks submitted for testing, the health unit has recorded just one testing positive for the bacteria responsible for causing Lyme disease.

Personal practices to reduce the risk of acquiring West Nile virus and Lyme disease are as follows.

  • Avoid being outdoors at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are most active.  
  • If outdoors during times of peak insect activity, consider wearing light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts and pants. 
  • When hiking, wear shoes with closed toes, and tuck your pant cuffs into your socks. 
  • Use an insect repellent containing DEET. Prior to using an insect repellent, make sure it is registered in Canada, read the label and follow directions carefully. If using a spray repellent, be sure to use the product in a well-ventilated area.  Apply only to exposed skin and/or clothing—never underneath clothing.
  • Install, replace or repair window screens to keep mosquitoes outdoors.
  • Eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites on your property where water can gather and become stagnant.

Ticks found on a person's body should be removed gently using tweezers at the tick’s mouth area. Ticks can be submitted to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit for testing. The tick bite area may develop a rash described as a bullseye. While this rash is not always present, it is an indication that the tick may have been carrying the bacteria responsible for Lyme disease. Later symptoms of Lyme disease can include headaches, fever or chills, chronic fatigue, muscle pains, or numbness.

Anyone who has had a tick bite with these symptoms should seek the assessment of a medical professional. If you believe the bite was from a black-legged tick, you should also seek medical attention, even if you don’t have symptoms.

A reminder about the steps to take for sun safety is also valuable:

  • Limit time in the sun when the rays are strongest, between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. 
  • Wear wide-brimmed hats, UV-protective sunglasses, and light-coloured, loose fitting clothing to cover the body as much as possible.
  • Wear sunscreen rated with a SPF of 15 or greater. 
  • Seek shade. 
  • Check the UV Index on Health Canada’s weather forecasts.

I wholeheartedly recommend regular physical activity outdoors in green spaces throughout the year. With seasonal precautions such as these being outdoors can be a healthy and rewarding experience.

Dr. Gardner is the Simcoe Muskoka Medical Officer of Health.


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