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Protect Yourself from Vector-Borne Diseases in Simcoe Muskoka

Aug 01, 2012
Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito or tick? Most often, this has resulted in nothing more than an irritating itch. However, these insects can become a “vector” and carry diseases to humans or other animals. In our area mosquitoes can spread West Nile Virus (WNv) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEEv), and the ticks may carry Lyme disease.

Have you ever been bitten by a mosquito or tick?  Most often, this has resulted in nothing more than an irritating itch. However, these insects can become a “vector” and carry diseases to humans or other animals. In our area mosquitoes can spread West Nile Virus (WNv) and Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus (EEEv), and the ticks may carry Lyme disease. 

WNv

This year we have seen an earlier emergence of positive pools of vector mosquitoes  across many regions in Southern Ontario. To date Simcoe Muskoka has not seen the same pattern, but a change in the weather that provides more standing water could see that situation change.  

Most people infected with WNv have no symptoms and do not get sick. Others may experience fever and body ache, and some may develop a mild rash or swollen lymph glands. Individuals with weaker immune systems are at greater risk of serious health effects, such as meningitis (inflammation of the lining of the brain or spinal cord) and encephalitis (inflammation of the brain). The most severe cases of WNv can cause long-term health effects and, though quite rare, can be fatal.

EEEv

This is mainly a disease of horses, but occasionally humans can be affected. The vector mosquito which can carry EEEv is a rare find in our surveillance traps. The symptoms and health effects are much the same as for WNV.  

Lyme disease

Simcoe Muskoka is not considered a high-risk area for Lyme disease, but uninfected vector ticks have been found occasionally.  Contact with ticks generally occurs by brushing against vegetation in wooded areas and trails. 

Tick bites are usually painless and not itchy, but a circular “bull’s eye” like a rash can appear. Fatalities from Lyme disease are rare, but if undiagnosed and left untreated, it can lead to long-term health effects including chronic arthritis and neurological problems. Early treatment with antibiotics is effective in most cases. 

All of this can sound pretty scary; however there are steps everyone can take to protect themselves and their loved ones from bites: 

  • Wear light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, and a hat when outdoors.
  • Use insect repellent, especially at dawn and dusk when mosquito activity is highest, and follow the manufacturer’s directions for safe use.
  • Make sure door and window frames and screens on your home fit tightly and have no holes.
  • Avoid sandals or open shoes when hiking – wear shoes that cover your entire foot.
  • After outdoor activity, check clothing and your entire body for any attached ticks - ticks can be brought to the health unit for testing in a suitable container.
  • Reduce the habitat for ticks and mosquitoes by keeping grass on your property well cut and draining any standing water. 

For more information about vector-borne diseases, including how to properly remove a tick and when to visit a health care provider for testing, please visit simcoemuskokahealth.org or call Your Health Connection at 705-721-7520 or 1-877-721-7520, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday to Friday and speak with a public health nurse. 

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 Dr. Pfaff is one of Simcoe Muskoka’s associate medical officers of health.


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