Canada is a modern, medically, scientifically and technologically advanced country, and health risks and vaccinations are much the same as in any similarly-advanced country, but there are a few infectious diseases, unknown in other parts of the world, that you should be aware of.
There are the usual seasonal bouts of colds and influenza, typically in the colder months, but this is no cause for alarm as frequent hand-washing helps to avoid catching these types of illnesses. Lyme disease is a more serious ailment, sometimes occurring in parts of Canada, particularly in southern Canada close to the U.S. border. It is fairly uncommon and is transmitted by the bite of a deer tick, found in areas frequented by deer (across the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island, and the Fraser Valley). Often the first symptom of Lyme disease is a red rash, appearing in a ring. Later symptoms manifest much like symptoms of the flu, with head and body aches, fever, and malaise.
There is a high cure rate if treated straight away after being bitten. If you do go into heavily-wooded areas, make sure to wear protective clothing (long sleeves and long pants) and perhaps even repellent (you can get natural ones that are very effective, check the label), and check yourself carefully after being outdoors, to make sure you haven’t been bitten. Remember, Lyme disease is not common in Canada, but it is something to be aware of.
Canada is not a rabies-free country. Certain types of animals have been known to carry the disease (mainly bats, but sometimes raccoons, skunks, foxes, and unvaccinated cats and dogs) which can be transmitted to humans through a bite. Rabies is a serious viral infection affecting the central nervous system, and, once symptoms appear, is nearly always fatal. Preventive treatment is available after exposure, as long as symptoms have not yet appeared (between 2 to 12 weeks after being bitten). The cure rate with preventive treatment is high. If you think you may have been exposed to rabies, please seek medical attention immediately.
Mosquitoes are common in Canada during the summer months, and getting bitten is usually no cause for alarm, but the West Nile virus has been found in Canada, and in BC in a crow found to be infected with the virus in 2010 (no human cases have been reported in British Columbia), so, it is wise to take appropriate precautions to avoid getting mosquito bites. The West Nile virus is transmitted by a certain type of mosquito (Culex) in the late summer and early fall, which generally bite in the evening after the sun sets. Ordinary mosquito bites are annoying at worst, although some people may have more serious reactions to them (localized swelling).
It is wise to ensure your home’s windows and doors are screened, and sleeping under a mosquito net during the summer months is a fun option (readily available at IKEA) that children in particular seem to enjoy (please ensure there is no possibility of the child becoming entangled in the net during the night). You can also burn citronella candles outdoors to discourage mosquitoes from hanging around, ensure there is no standing water around your house (where mosquitoes like to breed), and apply natural insect repellent when you are going to be outdoors.
Certain varieties of snakes live in BC, and all snakes are protected by law, so it is best to leave them alone, as much as possible. The only poisonous snake to worry about in BC is the Western Rattlesnake, which is found in the dry southern interior, in the Okanagan, Kettle, Similkameen, Nicola, and Thompson River valleys, and along the Fraser River in the Lytton-Lillooet area. It is not found in the Lower Mainland, so there is no need to worry unless traveling to the interior. Even so, the population of rattlesnakes in BC is quite small. If you do come across one, follow these steps, in order (from Reptiles of BC: http://www.bcreptiles.ca/more_rattlers.htm):
- Locate the snake
- Allow the snake to move away
- If the snake doesn’t move OR if the snake is one body length away, move directly away from the snake
- Be aware of your surroundings – you don’t want to trip on a rock or a second snake
There are only two types of poisonous spiders occurring in southern British Columbia, the Western Black Widow Spider and the Hobo Spider. Both spiders have been reported across the Lower Mainland, but, although their bites can cause extreme discomfort and can take months to heal, they are rarely fatal for people in good health. Check out these links for further information: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/bugs/black-widow-spider.html, http://www.camelspiders.net/.
Immunizations are not mandatory in Canada, but certain vaccinations are strongly recommended for certain age groups. For those born in Canada, it is customary to begin vaccinations when a child is just a few months old, and a regulated immunization schedule is followed (http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/im/is-cv/index-eng.php), but it is within the parents’ rights to choose to not immunize their child. For those born outside of Canada, immunizations may be strongly recommended upon arrival, but it is really up to the individual to decide whether or not to be immunized. Remember, immunization is a choice in Canada.
Some provinces “require” children to be immunized before entering school, but even if this is the case, parents still have the right to decide against immunizing their child. In such a case, the child will still be allowed to enter school (parents must sign a form), but may be asked to stay home during outbreaks of disease (rare), in order to protect the child from getting sick. Further information on immunizations can be found on the Health Canada website: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/babies-bebes/immun/index-eng.php.
Some parents are now becoming interested in homeopathic vaccinations as a viable option to traditional vaccines. Homeopathic vaccinations work like this (from Little Mountain Homeopathy website http://www.littlemountainhomeopathy.com/homeopathic-immunizations ):
“Homeopathic immunizations do not involve injections. Instead, the remedies are taken by mouth in sugar pill form. Immunization remedies are made from disease matter. The immunization remedy is then prepared in a homeopathic manner in order to render it completely safe and non-toxic. Homeopathic immunizations do not contain toxins or chemicals. Once the homeopathic remedy is administered, this very minute dose of homeopathically prepared disease matter is recognized by the body so that when the child comes across the disease later in life, the body is equipped to fight it off.”
Parents in Canada are fortunate to have the opportunity to choose between traditional vaccinations, homeopathic vaccinations, or no vaccinations at all for their children.