It is that time of year again when we all head out into the warm weather to soak up the sun and get some fresh air. It is also a fact that we have to put up with a multitude of biting insects. I am a bit of an expert when it comes to dealing with all these insects considering that I come from the muskeg country. They don’t call us the Swampy Cree for nothing. However, it doesn’t mean I am oblivious to all the creepy flying and crawling insects while I am trying to cool off in the back yard on a hot summer evening.
There is a notion that most people think that because I am Native, I am somehow impervious to insect bites. I am no less susceptible to being bitten by mosquitoes and black flies than anyone else around me. However, I am like most people from up the coast. I have been bitten so often during the summer months from the time I was born that mosquitoes and black flies don’t really bother me so much. I more or less put up with them. I have grown accustomed to living with these tiny creatures. They are a natural part of my world.
I learned from my elders that one must just put up with these creatures because they are only around for a month or two. This is a fact of life when you live in the muskeg. I was taught that the only thing you can do is to build a tolerance to mosquitoes. At the start of the season insect bites will stand out and cause pain but after a week or so you just simply get accustomed to it. I mean what choice do you really have if you are more or less landlocked and surrounded by swamp?
In recent years I have had to change my belief that mosquitoes are just annoying creatures that want to take some of your blood. In this modern world, mosquitoes are now capable of more than just taking away your blood and causing some minor annoyance.
For almost a decade now, there has been an emerging problem with West Nile Virus, a virus that affects some mammals and birds including humans and it is carried and transmitted by mosquitoes. Although it was originally a virus that started in Africa centuries ago, it was introduced into the North American environment near the city of New York in 1999. It is believed that it was established by an infected bird or mosquito. From that small start, the virus has slowly spread from one small biting mosquito to the next and moved west in the United States and north into Canada.
There are different affects of the virus on humans. For most people the virus is an asymptomatic infection, meaning we don’t know when we are infected and some people may develop mildsymptoms of infection such as fever, headache and body aches. For those with a weakened immune system, which includes people with chronic disease or who are receiving medical treatment that weakens the immune system (such as chemotherapy), an infection is a serious situation. This can develop into West Nile meningitis or encephalitis that can seriously affect the nervous system and can turn fatal.
To deal with this situation and the fear of becoming infected with some strange disease, we are turning to some old products that we once thought were dangerous to our health. Years ago, an insect repellent known as DEET was in the news as being a health hazard. For a long time, the amount of DEET that was made available was limited due to health concerns. With the emergence of West Nile Virus, these concerns are now being pushed aside for fears of the increased potential of contracting a serious disease like West Nile.
There is an ongoing debate concerning the use of DEET products in consideration that a mosquito bite these days can be very serious. Damned if you do and damned if you don’t. The answer from most health officials seems to be a middle ground where we balance the use of repellents that use DEET and also our exposure to mosquito infested areas and times of the day.
According to Health Canada, parents should not use repellents with DEET on children under six months of age. For children between six months to two years of age the least concentrated product of 10 percent DEET should be used just once a day in situations where there is high risk for mosquito bites and prolonged use should be avoided. For those from two to 12, a repellent with 10 percent DEET should be used no more than three times a day and prolonged use should be avoided. For those older than 12, including adults, products with 30 percent DEET are available and will provide sufficient protection. However, prolonged use such as daily application over weeks should be avoided.
Instead of putting myself at risk for mosquito bites or applying a potentially harmful chemical to my skin, I revert back to my old way of dealing with insects. Stay indoors where you are protected, if you are outside wear clothing that will cover your body and just wait until these tiny flying monsters disappear. All this will only last a month or two and don’t forget we still have many cold months where we don’t have to worry about the bugs. My people sat patiently in their shelters in the summers for thousands of years waiting for these bugs to go away. It is no big deal. We can do the same today.