If you love summer but hate bug bites and insect stings, take a natural approach. Our defensive strategies will help protect you and your family from the pests of summer.
We’ve waited all year for summer to arrive, and now we’re in the thick of it. But along with sunshine and outdoor activities come bug bites and insect stings to dampen summer fun. Don’t hide indoors or douse yourself with commercial insect repellents. Try natural ways to outsmart these pests or take the sting out of getting bitten.
Don’t let the bugs bite
When it comes to bugs and insects, think defence. Although mosquitoes can bite at any time, they’re most active at dawn or dusk. Ticks favour trail edges, wooded areas, or tall grass.
- Wear light-coloured clothing that is less attractive to mosquitoes.
- Cover up in loose-fitting, tightly woven long-sleeved shirts and full-length pants and closed shoes.
- When in tick territory, tuck in your shirt and pull your socks over your pant legs. Before going inside, check clothing and exposed skin for ticks.
- Avoid heavily scented soaps, lotion, perfumes, or colognes that may attract bugs.
- When taking infants outdoors, cover cribs, playpens, and strollers with mosquito netting.
- Use netting when sleeping outdoors or in unscreened structures.
Natural bug repellents
Currently, two natural bug repellents have proven effective when compared with low concentrations of DEET:
- lemon eucalyptus oil (which should not be used on children under the age of 3)
- 2 percent soybean oil
Small-scale studies looking at fennel, thyme, clover oil, celery extract, and neem oil have shown promise. However, don’t try to make your own repellents, as some oils can be toxic and irritating in high concentrations. Citronella repellents give limited protection, while ingesting vitamin B1, bananas, onion, or garlic doesn’t seem to work.
Bug-proof your property
Health Canada has many suggestions for making your property less attractive to mosquitoes and ticks.
- Over-the-counter insecticides are insufficient for overall mosquito control. Instead, remove their breeding ground: standing water.
- Dump or clean standing water from pool covers, wading pools, and bird baths.
- Keep swimming pools and ornamental ponds aerated. In ponds, get nature on your side: let fish, beetles, water bugs, and dragonflies eat mosquito larvae.
- Store flower pots, watering cans, wheelbarrows, and wading pools upside down.
- Cover outdoor containers—garbage, recycling, or composting bins—and rain barrels.
- Clean clogged eavestroughs.
- Landscape to eliminate water collection in low-lying areas.
Remove ticks’ favourite places:
- Clear brush, leaves, and tall grass.
- Put woodpiles in sunny locations.
Bugs in general
Keep them out:
- Check screens on doors and windows for tears and gaps.
- Ensure doors and windows fit tightly.
They bit. Now what?
Bees, wasps, hornets, yellow jackets, fire ants, and biting flies can all cause painful reactions. Bites from infected mosquitoes and ticks can lead to disease.
Reactions result when insects inject venom or other substances into the skin. The severity of the response depends on personal sensitivity and the number of bites or stings. Most people suffer mild reactions such as itching, stinging, or swelling.
For natural ways to alleviate swelling and pain, cover the area with
- a paste of water and baking soda
- essential oils including tea tree oil, peppermint, winter green, eucalyptus, or lavender
- white or apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
- poultice of crushed plantain leaves, camomile, or goldenrod
- mud or clay
- oatmeal poultice for a small area or oatmeal bath for overall relief
- cold pack or ice, 15 to 20 minutes each hour for the first six hours after being bitten or stung
- homeopathic remedies such as Apis mellifica, Ledum, Hypericum, Staphysagria, or Urtica urens
When it’s more than just an itch
Prevention is the best protection, but sometimes it’s not enough.
Allergic reactionsAlthough few people are severely allergic to insect venom, anyone suffering from anaphylaxis—a severe allergic reaction—requires emergency medical attention. Watch for
- facial swelling
- difficulty breathing
- faintness, dizziness, or confusion
- nausea, cramps, and vomiting
- abdominal pain
- rapid heartbeat
- drop in blood pressure and circulation (shock)
West Nile virusInfected mosquitoes pass on West Nile virus, now found in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. Many people display no symptoms. For others, typical flu-like symptoms including fever, head or body ache, fatigue, mild rash, or swollen lymph glands appear within two to 15 days.
Seniors and those with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems have greater risk for severe reactions. For them, the virus can lead to meningitis, encephalitis, and acute flaccid paralysis, which can be fatal. Symptoms may include
- rapid, severe headache
- high fever
- stiff neck
- difficulty swallowing
- nausea and/or vomiting
- loss of consciousness
- muscle weakness and lack of coordination
Sudden onset of these symptoms requires immediate medical attention.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, the risk of contracting Lyme disease is fairly low, but it is increasing. Higher risk areas include parts of southern and southeastern Quebec, Ontario, and Manitoba, as well as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and much of southern British Columbia.
The disease spreads through the bite of the blacklegged tick, sometimes called the deer tick. Pets can’t spread the disease to people, but can transfer infected ticks to them.
After being in an affected area:
- Check clothes and body for ticks.
- Shower or use a washcloth to remove unattached ticks.
- Remove attached ticks with tweezers. Removing a tick within two days significantly lowers the risk of disease.
- Clean and disinfect the bite site with soap and water, alcohol, or household antiseptic.
- If symptoms develop, see a health care practitioner.
If untreated, Lyme disease goes through three stages.
- Stage one: circular rash at the bite site and flu-like symptoms
- Stage two: nervous system disorders, multiple skin rashes, arthritic symptoms, heart palpitations, extreme fatigue, and/or general weakness
- Stage three: recurring arthritis and neurological problems
Conventional treatment is a course of antibiotics, and fatalities are rare.
Whichever repellent you choose, be sure to read directions carefully to get the most protection.
- Some products are not safe for young children, including DEET and lemon eucalyptus oil.
- Check labels to see if product can be used on toddlers, at what concentration, and how many applications.
- Do not apply to children’s hands or faces, as they may spread it to their mouth and eyes.
- Do a patch test for an allergic reaction.
- Do not use on open wounds or sunburned or irritated skin.
- Determine the length of time the repellent will protect you and be sure to reapply as necessary.
According to Health Canada and other organizations, the following are not effective or long-lasting in repelling bugs.
- citronella candles and incense
- DEET or citronella repellent-infused clothing and bands
- electronic or ultrasonic devices that emit high frequency sound, electrocuting devices such as bug zappers, or odour-baited mosquito traps