Dispensing Knowledge

EDITOR’S NOTE: In this column Dispensing Knowledge, Taylor Geertsema and Melanie Sanderson, 4th year Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD) students from the University of Waterloo explore topics on health and wellness. Taylor (née Robertson) is a Haweater born in Little Current and raised in Gore Bay. After completing high school at Manitoulin Secondary School, she left Manitoulin Island to attend university in Waterloo, Ontario. Melanie grew up in Lethbridge, Alberta, and has been proud to call Manitoulin home for the last five months. After completing her university degree in biology at the University of Lethbridge, she voyaged to Ontario to pursue pharmacy school.

“Mosquitoes and ticks and bites, oh my!”

Now that the warm weather is finally here, many of us are heading outdoors to enjoy the sun. Hiding in the long grass and the summer breeze are numerous different bugs that rely on human blood for their next meal. Once they feed, all that’s left is an itchy bump on your skin to remember them by.

There are many ways to protect yourself and the ones you love from these pests. Not only are mosquitoes annoying, but they may also transmit diseases such as West Nile virus. Recently, there has been more tick-talk buzzing in the community. It’s possible to find a tick virtually anywhere in Ontario. Not only do tick bites cause a characteristic bullseye rash, but they also have the potential to spread Lyme Disease.

If you’re not a fan of using insect repellent, there are other ways to protect yourself. Avoiding the areas where these pests live and bite is one strategy. This means avoiding tall grasses, swamps and marshes for mosquitoes and avoiding wooded areas, bushes and tall grass for ticks. In your own yard, you can do a number of things to reduce the number of mosquitoes present. Removing sources of standing water, such as rain barrels and clogged gutters, may reduce the number of mosquitoes you see, as standing water is where mosquitoes breed.

If avoidance isn’t the strategy that will work for you, then your next line of defense is covering up. Wearing loose fitting, long-sleeved, light-coloured clothing with closed-toe shoes can help to prevent mosquitoes and ticks from coming into contact with your skin. If you have a child in a crib or stroller, you can place a fine mesh net over the crib or stroller to prevent mosquitoes from reaching the child. For ticks, wearing light-coloured clothing provides a nice backdrop so the dark-coloured ticks can easily be identified and removed. Additionally, tucking your pant legs into your socks will help to prevent ticks from biting your ankles.

If you’d like to take the next step and employ the weapon known as insect repellent, then you have a couple of options. When selecting insect repellant, check the ingredient list and look for either DEET or icaridin as they are the most effective ingredients to keep these pests away. For both of these products, a higher percentage strength indicates a longer time of protection.  For children less than six months of age, these products are not recommended. For children six months or older, icaridin is the insect repellant of choice as the same percentage strength can be applied in both adults and children. With DEET-containing products, a lower percentage strength must be used with younger children. In any child or adult aged six months or older, icaridin 20 percent is safe to use to prevent mosquito and tick bites.

Ticks may stay attached to your skin for five or more days after they bite. If you live or enjoy a day outside in a wooded area, it is important to check your body at least once daily to see if this pest has found a way past your layers of defense. Inspecting your body for ticks and removing them early on in this process helps to prevent the spread of Lyme Disease.

Sunscreen is important to protect us from the ultraviolet radiation from the sun. When applying both sunscreen and insect repellant, apply the sunscreen first, wait 20 minutes, then spray the insect repellent. This ensures both products are working their best.

If bug bites do happen—and they always seem to—don’t panic! There are multiple products available at your local pharmacy to help you out! Whether it is an allergy medication or a cream, your pharmacist is able to provide a recommendation tailored to your needs.