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Editorial: respect the sun, biting insects

Respect the sun, watch out for ticks


June 5, 2018
By Mike Jiggens


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Now that the growing season has (finally) arrived in most of Canada following a winter season that didn’t want to leave the stage and stuck around long enough for an encore or two, we have the usual concerns associated with outdoor work.

With rising temperatures, increased humidity, rising pollen levels and the ever-present power of the sun come ticks, mosquitoes, allergies and the threat of skin cancer.

Left unchecked, all of these can add misery to a profession that is supposed to be enjoyable. People purposely choose to work in the turfgrass industry because of their love of the outdoors, but it’s important for them to realize the potential dangers they may encounter while working out of their “office.”

Number one on the list is arguably the sun. It’s always there and it’s always powerful. Some days it can be more powerful than others when the UV index is hovering at about nine. A recent tweet showed a golf superintendent sporting a number of angry red marks on his face that he was having checked by a dermatologist for carcinoma. This, he said, was the result of three decades of working outdoors.

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Whether or not he regularly applied sunscreen, he didn’t say. Sunscreens work well, but they can’t be applied only once to provide protection over the course of an eight-hour workday. They need to be reapplied and then reapplied again to get through a typical day, especially on the face, which tends to be more sensitive than uncovered limbs.

Some will argue that it’s just as dangerous to be smearing chemicals into the skin, and they would rather take their chances with sunburn and skin cancer. There are “natural” sunscreens available that don’t contain some of these controversial chemicals. These are at least better than going unprotected. But if it’s the choice of the worker to go without a sunscreen product, a wide-brimmed hat should be considered at the very least.

It’s easy to suggest outdoor workers wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants while working outside. Sure, they offer good protection against the sun’s rays and can keep mosquitoes and ticks at bay, but they’re also going to be extremely uncomfortable on hot days. Discomfort breeds unproductivity.

Having to work in areas known for populations of biting insects as well as being in full sun can be a challenge. Wearing light coloured clothing will certainly be more comfortable in the sun and will be less attractive to mosquitoes. Perhaps more importantly, ticks can be spotted much easier against lighter-coloured clothing than against darker fabrics.

Just when we thought we heard everything we care to hear about ticks, along comes a report out of Manitoba that tells us there are two emerging illnesses associated with ticks we previously knew little about. Lyme disease isn’t the only concern anymore. One of them, called Borrelia miyamotoi, is similar to Lyme disease with fever, chills and headache among the primary symptoms, yet rashes are not common. The other emerging illness is called Powassan disease, aka the deer tick virus, which causes vomiting, seizures and long-term neurological problems.

These insects cannot be taken lightly. They pack a punch much greater than their size. When working in the vicinity of taller grasses or wooded areas, periodic checks need to be made by workers to see if any ticks have attached themselves to clothing or exposed skin. Then they must be detected and properly disposed of before they are given the chance to do their dirty work.

Staying out of such areas when possible is the best approach, but it’s never a bad idea to be prepared if the job calls for it. Protection and comfort must go hand in hand.

In the end, it’s all about common sense. We’re being told it’s going to be more of a challenging season tick-wise.