Protect yourself from West Nile virus

Protect yourself from West Nile virus
Protect yourself from West Nile virus

The West Nile virus which is mainly transmitted to humans through the bites of infected mosquitoes is a he alth hazard. Here are some tips to protect yourself as the virus rages in Quebec.


The presence of West Nile virus in Quebec

West Nile virus (WNV) has been present in Quebec since 2002, particularly in the southwestern regions of the province. The Ministry of He alth and Social Services calls for vigilance and recommends taking the necessary measures to prevent this infection,while an upsurge in the number of cases of infection has been observed in recent years.

“Contrary to popular belief, mosquitoes that transmit WNV are particularly present in urban areas. It is therefore necessary to encourage the population to take all the necessary measures to protect themselves against this infection, in particular people aged fifty or over and people with a weakened immune system or suffering from a chronic disease, who are more risk of developing complications,” said Dr. Danielle Auger, director ofthe protection of public he alth.

During activities taking place outdoors, it is recommended to protect yourself against mosquito bites by wearing long, light-colored clothing, especially at night, early in the morning and at the end of the day. It is also very important to use mosquito repellent containing DEET, icaridin or lemon eucalyptus, according to the manufacturer's instructions, and to apply it to the parts of the body exposed to the open air, in avoiding the face. To protect the head and face, just put the mosquito repellent on the hat or cap.


Research indicates that people infected with West Nile virus have no or mild symptoms. However, people with compromised immune systems or chronic illnesses are at higher risk.

Although the risk of being infected is minimal – and the percentage of those infected who become seriously ill is even lower – anyone exposed to mosquito bites where the virus is active is at risk. However, the risk of serious he alth effects generally increases with age.



Less than 1% of people infected have complications such as:

  • a serious disease such as encephalitis, i.e. inflammation of the brain;
  • nerve problems that can become permanent.

In rare cases, the VNO maycause death.

How do I protect my family?

The best way to reduce your risk of being exposed to West Nile virus is to avoid mosquito bites. You can reduce the risk of being bitten by mosquitoes in two ways:

Protecting yourself (and your family) from mosquito bites

  • Use insect repellent containing DEET or another approved product when going outdoors.
  • Wear protective clothing: long-sleeved shirt, pants, hat. Pale colors are preferable because they are less attractive to mosquitoes.
  • Make sure window and door screens are secure and have no holes.

Eliminate breeding sites around the house and cottage

The mosquito lays its eggs in stagnant water. It takes about four days for the larvae to become fledgling adults. All it takes is a little water in a saucer under a flower pot for a breeding site to be born, hence the importance of eliminating any source of stagnant water:

  • Twice a week remove water that accumulates on outdoor items, such as pool cover, saucers under flower pots, recycling bins, garbage cans, etc.
  • Eliminate unnecessary old objects lying around on your property (especially old tires), because water accumulates there.
  • Change the water in the wading pool, bird bath, pet bowl, andcattle waterer twice a week.
  • Cover rain barrels with mesh.
  • Clean your gutters regularly to prevent water from accumulating in them.
  • Install an aerator in your decorative pond to allow surface water circulation and make it unwelcoming to mosquito larvae.

For more information on WNV and preventive measures, the public is invited to consult the Portail santé mieux-être at or at contact the Info-Santé line 8-1-1.


The use of insecticides

Over-the-counter products are designed to kill garden insects and are ineffective against mosquitoes. As for other insecticides, only a worker licensed by provincial authorities and trained in the safe use of pesticides can supervise a mosquito control program. The decision whether or not to use an insecticide rests with local and provincial he alth authorities.

First, you should try to eliminate sources of standing water around your property by getting rid of your old tires or containers and cleaning your gutters. However, in the case of standing water sources that cannot be easily drained, there are mosquito larvicides for domestic or commercial use duly registered. These products contain Bacillus thuringiensis var. Israelensis (Bti), a highly toxic bacterium formosquito larvae and whose effects on he alth and the environment are minimal. For these larvicides to be effective, you must carefully follow the directions for their use.

What is DEET?

DEET is the most effective insect repellent ingredient. However, it should be used with caution. It should never be applied to the skin of children under the age of two. It is available in different commercial formulas. Before using this product, read the label carefully.

How to protect a child against insects?

Children under two

  • Do not use products containing DEET on the skin of children under 2 years of age. Apply DEET to his clothes; however, you will need to change it when you return. Only use DEET on natural fibers (eg cotton); this product may stain synthetic fibres, such as polyester.
  • Make sure the child wears light-coloured clothes, a long-sleeved shirt and pants. Dark clothes attract mosquitoes and black flies.
  • Place mosquito netting over her stroller and playpen.
  • Keep it away from wooded areas, bushes and tall grass.
  • Don't take the child out at dawn and sunset.

Children over two years old

  • Use an insect repellent with a DEET concentration of no more than 10%. Apply only small amounts at a time,and as infrequently as possible. Apply product only to exposed surfaces or to child's clothing. Each application should work for four to eight hours. Consult your pharmacist to find out which products are indicated for children.
  • Do not use atomizers directly on children's skin. Spray the product into your hands and then rub it into the child's skin. Do not use atomizers inside a tent. Use these products only in well-ventilated areas.
  • If your child has allergies or sensitive skin, apply only a small amount of insect repellent to the child's forearm to determine if they are allergic to DEET. Take this test several hours before going outside.
  • Do not put DEET in contact with the hands and fingers of young children, as sooner or later they may put it in their mouths.
  • Do not apply DEET to parts of the body hidden by clothing or a diaper. Do not apply to an open wound or to irritated or sunburned skin.
  • When the repellent is no longer needed (for example, when the child comes home), wash the area where the repellent was applied with soapy water.

Against what insects is DEET effective?

DEET is effective against the bites and bites of mosquitoes, black flies, horse flies, deer flies, sandflies, fleas and ticks. DEET does notdoes not protect against the stings of bees, wasps and hornets.

Are there any side effects?

Using DEET on the skin can cause burns, irritation and redness. Children are also susceptible to the following serious reactions: seizures, behavioral changes, lethargy and confusion.

If a child ingests a product containing DEET, the side effects can be serious. This product should therefore be kept out of the reach of children.

General recommendations for the application of insect repellents

  • When DEET-based insect repellents are used as directed, they are harmless and effective. However, allergic or toxic reactions may occur.
  • Read entire label before use. DEET concentrations in commercial products available in Canada vary between 5 and 100%.
  • Always supervise your child when applying insect repellent.
  • Avoid contact with insect repellent in the eyes. If this happens, rinse them immediately with water.
  • Avoid using this product for long periods of time and apply it often all over your body.
  • If an allergic reaction occurs, discontinue use of the product.

How to treat insect bites?

Insect bites can cause itching, pain and swelling. If your child has difficulty breathing or feels nauseous, see your doctor These symptoms may indicate a generalized allergic reaction.

To treat insect bites,

  • Do not pull on the insect's stinger to remove it; this risks injecting even more venom. Remove the stinger by scraping with your fingernails or using a credit card.
  • Apply a cold water compress. Calamine lotions or pastes made from baking soda and water can soothe the pain. If the bite continues to swell, use ice and administer an antihistamine. Consult your pharmacist to find out which product you need and its dosage.

Recognizing acute allergic reactions

General allergic reactions, or “anaphylaxis,” are rare. Dial 811 (Info-Santé) if your child has any combination of the following symptoms: labored breathing or collapse, weakness, nausea, vomiting or hives (itchy skin and blisters).

If the person has no other symptoms, an antihistamine can calm minor reactions, including hives. For acute reactions, use adrenaline (epinephrine) if available.

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