The following was submitted by Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit's Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Gardner:
The return of warm weather is more than welcome after a winter that was reluctant to release its grip on Simcoe and Muskoka. It is natural to feel the urge to get outside and engage in some 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 shows the positive relationship between time spent in green spaces such as parks, trails, gardens and wooded areas and people’s health.
People may sometimes feel deterred from experiencing the outdoors when they hear cautions about ticks carrying Lyme disease or mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus. Warnings of a high UV index may also prevent people from going outside. Certainly people need to be aware of the risks, but we can still enjoy all that Simcoe Muskoka’s outdoors have to offer by taking some simple precautions.
- Avoid being outdoors at dusk or dawn when mosquitoes are most active.
- When outdoors in grassy or wooded areas, wearing light-coloured, long-sleeved shirts and pants, wear shoes with closed toes, and tuck your pant cuffs into your socks. Light coloured clothing makes ticks easier to see.
- Use an insect repellent containing DEET or icaridin. Prior to using an insect repellent, make sure it is registered in Canada, read the label and follow directions. 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.
- Eliminate potential mosquito breeding sites on your property where water can gather and become stagnant.
- Practice sun safety: wear wide-brimmed hat, long sleeves and use sunscreen, and be aware of the peak hours of strong sunlight (11 a.m. to 4 p.m.).
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.
In addition, among the many ticks submitted for testing, results have shown very few blacklegged ticks testing positive for the bacteria responsible for causing Lyme disease in Simcoe Muskoka; however Lyme disease has been readily transmitted in much of southern Ontario.
Over the past three years, we have observed a marked increase in the number of local Lyme disease cases, despite low case counts of the reportable disease in the past. This serves as a reminder that ticks found on a person’s body should be removed as soon as possible. This can be done easily by using tweezers, placing them close to the tick’s mouth area and pulling the tick out.
Ticks can be submitted to the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit for identification and testing. If symptoms associated with Lyme disease appear (such a fever, body pains, fatigue with or without a rash), seek medical attention. For more information on Lyme disease and its symptoms, visit www.ontario.ca/lyme.
Public Health Ontario has released its 2019 Ontario Lyme Disease - Estimated Risk Area map. This map highlights areas where blacklegged ticks have been found through public health surveillance efforts, including areas in Simcoe Muskoka. It is important to note that although there is a greater risk of encountering blacklegged ticks in the highlighted areas, blacklegged ticks can be found anywhere in the province.
I wholeheartedly recommend regular physical activity outdoors in green spaces throughout the year. With seasonal precautions, being outdoors can be a healthy and rewarding experience.