Outdoor health

How to avoid the most common outdoor diseases in the province.

Outdoor health concerns

Enjoying the outdoors can help you stay fit and healthy, but it can also make you sick. Take steps to protect yourself and your family from these top 4 outdoor health concerns:

  • Lyme disease: the most common illness carried by ticks in North America and Europe
  • West Nile virus: a disease carried by mosquitoes and found in animals, birds and humans
  • Bee and insect stings: can cause serious problems for people who are allergic
  • Rabies: a contagious disease carried by infected animals that is always fatal unless treated before symptoms develop

Lyme disease

How you get Lyme disease

Lyme disease is carried by deer ticks — also called blacklegged ticks. These ticks live in woodlands in tall grasses and bushes. If you walk in these areas and the ticks bite you, they will pass the disease on to you.

In Ontario, ticks are mainly found in areas along the north shores of:

  • Lake Erie
  • Lake Ontario
  • the St. Lawrence River.

Ticks can live almost anywhere in the province, so everyone outdoors needs to learn how to avoid Lyme disease.

Lyme disease signs and symptoms

People with Lyme disease often see symptoms after 1-2 weeks. But you can see symptoms as early as 3 days or as long as a month after a tick bite. Symptoms include:

  • fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, fatigue, swollen glands and a skin rash
  • some patients may develop a skin rash that looks like a red bull's eye

How to avoid Lyme disease

Cover up

  • wear light-coloured clothing so you can spot ticks and remove them before they bite you
  • wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket and long pants (tucked into your socks for extra protection)
  • wear closed footwear and socks

Use insect repellant

Use a bug repellent containing DEET.
Important: DEET is a powerful chemical. Always read the label directions for use. Or, ask your pharmacist for help when choosing a DEET product.

If you have pets

  • put a tick and flea collar on your pet
  • check them for ticks from time to time

Double check yourself

  • if you go to an area where deer ticks live, check yourself carefully for ticks
  • pay close attention to areas where ticks are more likely to get onto your body or into your clothes — including your scalp, ankles, behind your knees, your armpits and your groin area
  • use a mirror to check the back of your body or have someone else check for you

If you think you have Lyme disease

It’s important to find and treat the disease early. If you wait and the initial infection is not treated, severe symptoms that affect your heart, your nervous system or your joints can occur. Get medical help quickly if you develop a skin rash, especially one that looks like a red bull's eye.

If you think you’ve contracted Lyme disease, contact:

Lyme disease resources

Read more about Lyme disease

Health Canada, It's Your Health: Lyme disease

Public Health Agency of Canada: Ticks and Lyme disease

Canada Communicable Disease Report: The rising challenge of Lyme borreliosis in Canada

Health Canada: Insect repellents

West Nile virus

How you get West Nile virus

West Nile virus is carried by mosquitoes. The mosquitoes become infected by feeding on an infected bird. If an infected mosquito bites you, it will pass the disease onto you. Although there are only a few cases each year, everyone in Ontario who spends time near mosquitos could get West Nile.

West Nile virus symptoms

Four out of five people do not show any symptoms. Others see symptoms 2-5 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

Common symptoms include:

  • fever
  • headache
  • body ache
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • rash on chest, stomach or back

Approximately one in 150 people will have serious symptoms including:

  • high fever
  • severe headache
  • muscle weakness
  • stiff neck
  • confusion
  • tremors
  • numbness
  • sudden sensitivity to light

How to avoid West Nile virus

Cover up

Cover up when going outside between the hours of dusk and dawn. Remember to wear:

  • a long-sleeved shirt or jacket and long pants (tucked into your socks for extra protection)
  • light-coloured clothing
  • if you will be outside for a long time, wear special clothing that is designed to protect you from bugs

Clean up

  • once a week, get rid of standing water around your home (mosquitoes lay their eggs in stagnant water, even small amounts)
  • keep bushes and shrubs clear of overgrowth and debris (adult mosquitoes like to rest in dense shrubbery)
  • turn your compost pile often

Use insect repellant

Use a bug repellent containing DEET.
DEET is a powerful chemical. Always read the label directions for use. Or, ask your pharmacist for help when choosing a DEET product.

If you think you have West Nile virus

If you think you’ve contracted the West Nile virus, contact:

West Nile virus resources

Visit Public Health Ontario for weekly reports on West Nile virus in Ontario.

Public Health Ontario West Nile virus reports

More information on protecting yourself from the West Nile virus (available in 25 languages)

Public Health Agency of Canada: West Nile virus – Protect yourself

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: West Nile virus

Bee and insect stings

Most bees and insects will not attack if left alone. But if annoyed, a bee will sting in defense of its nest or itself. Many people are stung each year and a few may die as a result of allergic reactions.

If you know you are allergic to insect stings:

  • carry an insect sting allergy kit
  • wear a medical ID bracelet or necklace stating your allergy

Ask your family doctor about getting these items. You may also want to ask about a kit that will help reduce the pain of an insect sting. This type of kit is a valuable addition to a first aid kit.

How to avoid stings

Cover up

  • wear light colored clothing with a smooth finish — it attracts fewer bees than dark clothing
  • cover the body as much as possible with clothing

Keep yourself clean and fragrance free

  • wear clean clothing and bathe daily — sweat can make bees angry
  • avoid perfumed soaps, shampoos and deodorants
  • don't wear cologne or perfume
  • avoid bananas and banana-scented toiletries

Keep outdoor spaces clear and fragrance free

  • clean up picnic tables, grills and other outdoor eating areas
  • avoid flowering plants if you know you are allergic to bee and insect stings

If you see a single stinging insect

  • remain still or lie face down on the ground (the face is the most likely place for a bee or wasp to sting)
  • do not swing or swat at the insect
  • if a bee comes inside your vehicle, stop the car slowly and open all the windows

If you are attacked outdoors

Bees release a chemical when they sting. This warns other bees that there is danger. More bees often follow. If stinging insects attack you, run to get away from them. If you are outdoors:

  • look for a shaded area, stay away from open areas
  • go indoors if you can
  • jump into water

If you are allergic to insect stings

There are several signs of an allergic reaction to insect stings. Watch for:

  • swelling that moves to other parts of the body, especially the face or neck
  • difficulty in breathing
  • dizziness or a drop in blood pressure

Get immediate medical care if you see any of these signs after an insect sting. Contact your doctor or other health care provider.

Health care providers

Rabies

Rabies is spread from infected mammals to people.

How you get rabies

You can contract the disease in four ways:

  • a rabid animal bites you
  • the saliva of a rabid animal enters your body through an open cut, sore or wound
  • the saliva of a rabid animal touches the moist tissues of your mouth, nose or eyes
  • you do not protect yourself properly when handling a dead rabid animal

The chance of running into a rabid animal in Ontario is very low.

Rabies signs and symptoms

Rabies attacks your central nervous system. It is always fatal unless treated before symptoms develop.

Early symptoms may include:

  • numbness around the site of the bite
  • fever
  • headache
  • a general sick feeling

Later symptoms may include:

  • muscle spasms
  • hydrophobia (fear of water)

Adults may see symptoms within 2 weeks of exposure. In some rare cases, symptoms may take much longer to show — even more than a year. Once you see symptoms, it is often too late for treatment and you will likely die.

How to avoid rabies

  • do not feed wild animals and stay at a safe distance from them
  • watch children and teach them not to approach or touch animals they do not know
  • stay away from animals showing signs of rabies
  • do not bring home wild animals
  • if you suspect an animal is rabid, stay away from it and contact the local authorities
  • if you have pets or livestock, make sure to vaccinate them against rabies

How to spot rabies

If you see any animal behaving strangely, they may have rabies. There are two forms of the disease:

  1. Dumb or paralytic rabies:
    • animals may show signs of depression and will try to hide
    • wild animals may lose their fear of humans and appear unusually friendly
    • animals may show signs of partial paralysis such as abnormal facial expressions, drooping head, sagging jaw, or paralyzed hind limbs
  2. Furious or irritable rabies:
    • animals may seem very excited or aggressive
    • animals may gnaw at and bite their own limbs
    • animals may attack objects or other animals

Rabid animals may have one or both of these forms of rabies. Or, they may not show symptoms at all.

Report a bite

Report an animal that seems dangerous

  • call your local police
  • call the Ontario Provincial Police

Report a living or dead domestic animal (such as pets or livestock) that may have rabies

Contact the Ministry of Agriculture and Food’s Agricultural Information Contact Centre at 1-877-424-1300.

If you think you have rabies

If you think you’ve contracted rabies, contact:

The goal of PHUs is to prevent rabies occurrences in humans. This is achieved by increasing the public's awareness of the disease and by providing post-exposure treatment to persons exposed to animals suspected or known to have rabies.

Rabies resources

The Rabies Research and Development Unit at the Ministry of Natural Resources manages and researches rabies in wildlife. This includes leading a program to prevent rabies in Ontario.

Rabies Research and Development Unit

Updated: February 25, 2015