Health in the Outdoors

Health and wellness in the outdoors

Lyme Disease 2017 Update

Click here for an article published last year on this topic.

Click here for the 2017 map showing risk areas for Lyme Disease in Ontario.

Click here and here (scroll to map at bottom) for some information on the prevalence of the disease in Quebec and the rest of Canada.

Outdoor activities, in general, carry a potential risk brought on by changing or adverse weather including; wind, lightning, and temperature extremes; that can lead to heat stroke, hypothermia, physical exhaustion or personal injury. If do not have appropriate gear for the anticipated weather, feel you have a health condition that could cause problems, or if you feel your paddling skills might not be strong enough for high winds, discuss your concerns with the trip leader before joining a trip.

 Hypothermia

Outdoor activities, in general, carry a potential risk of exposure to hypothermia. This risk is accentuated on the water where strenuous activity and exposure to wet conditions can increase the level of risk. All Club members need to be aware of hypothermia, the signs and symptoms, the dangers, the remedies, how to prevent it in ourselves and recognize it in others. Additional materials concerning hypothermia are posted at the canoe shed.

White water paddling is often at its best real early in the season as the ice melts, for this reason many trips early through till late-May will be advertised a dry-suits mandatory.

In addition to dry cloths for the take-out, it is recommended that groups ensure a hypothermia kit is included in the trip gear.

 

 Lyme disease

Lyme disease is a serious chronic disease caused by the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. The size of a tick varies depending on its age and whether it has fed recently. They are very small, ranging in he size from a poppy seed to a pea when they are engorged.

Blacklegged ticks are found in forested and overgrown areas between the woods and open spaces. Tick populations are expanding and the Ottawa area is now a risk area for infection.

Lyme disease symptoms can differ from person to person with varying degrees of severity. Symptoms may not present for weeks after the bite and therefore become hard to associate with Lyme disease. Signs and symptoms could include one, or a combination, of the following; fatigue, fever, headaches, spasms or weakness, numbness, skin rash, cognitive dysfunction or dizzy, abnormal heartbeat (to name a few). For more information check the Public Health Agency's Fact Sheet or read the article about Camping and Canoeing in areas with Lyme disease.

 

Poison Ivy and other blistering plants

Most people are familiar with poison ivy but may not be aware that there are other plant species that can cause severe blistering reactions worse than Poison Ivy. Wild Parsnip and Giant Hogsweed are invasive plants that are common in many areas of Ontario. Plant sap from these species contains a phototoxic compound that is absorbed by the skin and activated by ultraviolet light to cause a chemical reaction that burns the skin. If it gets in the eyes it can cause blindness.

The best way to avoid contact with these plants is to know what they look like and avoid then. For additional information and detailed descriptions of the plants refer to the links below.

 

Poison Ivy

Poison Ivy is endemic to the Ottawa Valley and anyone paddling these waterways will be guaranteed to come across it, as it particularly likes shorelines and damp areas. Some poison ivy plants are quite innocuous and others have vicious amounts of the toxic oil coating the leaves, stems & roots.

People often get poison ivy from secondary contact with other objects. The plant oil can get on your boots, canoe, clothes, pack, paddle or pet and subsequently transfer to your skin. It is well worth learning to identify poison ivy, which is not easy, as it can look quite different, depending on where it grows.

The appearance and shape of the leaves varies with the time of year and the area that they grow in. In warmer areas they can grow like a vine and climb trees. In our area they tend to be more like a bush with three leaves. The leaves have a reddish tinge in the spring and a green oily leaf in the summer with reddish leaves and white berries in the Fall.

It is well worth learning to identify poison ivy, which is not easy, as it can look quite different, depending on where it grows. One very basic rule of thumb is “Leaves of three; let it be!” For a fantastic range of photographs check out http://www.poison-ivy.org/index.htm .

Cold soapy water might wash the poison ivy oil off, or jewelweed juice might neutralize it. Itchy red patches and small blisters after exposure are best treated with calamine lotion, jewelweed, or hydrocortisone cream to control the itch. If the itch or the blisters are open and weeping are uncontrollable, see your doctor right away. For more information on dealing with poison ivy, check out this website.

 

Wild Parsnip

Wild Parsnip is an invasive plant that is spreading throughout Ontario and is now common in the Ottawa area. It is often found on areas of uncultivated land, roadside ditches, nature trails and the edges of woods.

The sap of the plant contains chemicals that cause severe eye and skin irritation. Initial blistering occurs one or two days after exposure but can lead to long-term photo-sensitivity in the exposed area. Mild plant contact may only cause a minor skin reaction but heavy contact with plant sap may result in severe skin reactions or blindness if it gets in the eyes.

Sensitized skin is aggravated by exposure to sunlight long after exposure, causing additional burning and blistering that can result in permanent scarring with brownish or reddish discolouration .

The plant has two growth stages; non-flowering leafy rosettes at ground level and later as a flowering plant.

In the first stage, during the first year, the plant forms low-growing non-flowering rosettes of leaves form with a cluster of spindly, compound leaves, arranged in 2-5 pairs with sharply toothed leaflets and a diamond shaped leaflet on the end. They are said to be shaped like mittens and look a little bit like celery.

In the flowering stage, during the second or third year, the plant sends up tall, branched hollow green stems with pan shaped yellow flowers that usually bloom in early June to late July. Stalks can be 0.5 to 1.5 metres tall. Seeds are flat and round.

If you come into contact with wild parsnip, avoid touching contaminated clothing. If you get the plant sap on your skin, wash it off as soon as possible with cold soapy water and avoid exposing areas of contact to sunlight. The sooner that you wash the area the better.

If blisters develop you can cover the affected areas with cool, wet cloths. Adding an astringent to the water such as Domeboro can help dry up the weeping blisters. Keep the area clean and use an antibiotic cream to avoid infection. In severe cases a Doctor may recommend a cortisone-steroid for extreme discomfort. Combined cortozone-steroid creams with antibiotic are also available.

For serious cases with extensive blistering, consult a physician.

For a personal story on being burned by Wild Parsnip, read David Egan's account.

 

Giant Hogsweed

Giant Hogsweed is another invasive plant that is spreading throughout Ontario. It is found sporadically throughout Southern and Central Ontario south of a line from Manitoulin Island to Ottawa. It grows along roadsides, ditches and streams and invades old fields and open woodlands. It does best in moist wet areas.

Similar to Wild Parsnip, the stems leaves and roots contain a photosensitive chemical that can cause severe skin burns and blindness if the sap gets on the skin or in the eyes. The plant is much larger and full of sap so the chemical burns can be extensive.

The plant grows in two stages; a rosette stage and a flowering stage. During the first year the plant forms a large root and large lobed leaves in a rosette that can be as large as 1 metre across.

Giant Hogsweed is an enormous plant can grow as high as 1 – 5.5 metres (3' to 20')

It has hollow ridged stems that are 4-10 cm in diameter at the base with reddish-purple splotches and coarse white hair. It has large lobed leaves large deeply cult leaflets with irregular lobes and coarse sharp teen on all of the margins. The flower is an attractive white compound umbel made up of smaller flat, round units. The flower itself can be as wide as 80 cm in diameter.

Follow the same precautions as for Wild Parsnip if you come into contact with this plant. Consult a physician if chemical burns develop.