Summer in Canada draws people out of their homes and into fresh air and sunshine, but it only takes one itchy red bump to remember we’re sharing our favourite outdoor spaces with hordes of mosquitoes.
Irritating as they are, certain species of mosquitoes are also known to transmit harmful diseases, including West Nile virus. The persistently humid and wet weather some provinces have experienced throughout May and June creates the perfect conditions for mosquitoes to reproduce and thrive. So the best chance of limiting your exposure to the flying insect and its bite is to know which factors attract it and how to mitigate them.
“It’s all about just being conscious of where you are and taking precautions,” entomologist Cara Gibson told CTVNews.ca. Gibson taught insect studies at universities in Canada and the U.S. for 20 years and now works for the government of British Columbia.
She suggested the following tips for avoiding mosquito bites.
Know where they’re likely to be
Mosquitoes lay their eggs in standing water, and their young remain there until they reach the adult stage of their life cycle at around day 14.
During this roughly two-week period, female mosquitoes feed their larval young blood meals taken from humans, mamals, birds and reptiles.
For this reason, swamps, bogs, and forests with puddles and ponds usually have large mosquito populations throughout the spring and summer months. They’re attracted to chemicals in sweat, including lactic acid produced by exercise, as well as the carbon dioxide we exhale, so they may be more likely to show up around people who are exercising heavily outside. They’re also more active at dawn and dusk.
Urban and suburban areas can have large numbers of mosquitoes too, if there’s standing water nearby.
“One of the classic places water stands for a very long time is inside old tires,” Gibson said. “It can be surprising because you can be in a run down old parking lot and think ‘There’s no bog here,’ but if there are tires that have been discarded then you’re going to have standing swater.”
Avoiding areas you know will have standing water during the time of year when mosquitoes are active can help limit your exposure. If you can’t avoid these places, you can at least be prepared with insect repellants.
Curb their reproduction
Mosquitoes don’t need much standing water to raise their young. In fact, Gibson said, even a saucer with a few centimetres of water under a plant pot can host mosquito larvae.
“Sometimes people don’t realize that they’re actually part of the problem, increasing mosquitoes’ populations with standing water.” Gibson suggested pouring out any standing water that collects in objects on porches and in yards, no matter how small the amount.
If you know you can’t avoid being around mosquitoes, dress in loose-fitting, light-coloured and tightly-woven clothing.
“If you don’t want to be bitten by mosquitos, cover up,” Gibson said. “They like some colours more than others, so wearing a light colour that is loose and away from your body is good, as they’ll land on the sleeve that’s billowing out.” For areas with especially dense mosquito populations, specially designed mesh shirts, pants or head nets might be more appropriate.
Insect repellants containing a concentration of at least four per cent DEET can be effective at keeping mosquitoes away, but Gibson said it’s important to know how they work.
“Don’t spray DEET at mosquitos, it does not kill them,” she said. “It’s just a repellant.”
Additionally, Health Canada says people should use mosquito netting when sleeping outdoors or in an unscreened shelter, wear clothing made with fabrics like nylon and polyester, and fix or replace old and torn screens in doors, windows and vents, as they can serve as access points into a home.