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An invasive species of caterpillar is taking over Maine, causing residents to break out in painful rashes

Caterpillars are taking over Maine — however they don’t seem to be the sort you need to befriend. Instead, these critters will depart you with painful rashes wherever they contact.

The state is experiencing an outbreak of the browntail moth caterpillar, an invasive species discovered on the coast of Maine and Cape Cod. They are straightforward to establish: They are about 1.5 inches lengthy and darkish brown, with white stripes alongside their sides and two orange dots on their again. 

Unfortunately, they’re additionally laborious to escape, being discovered in colleges, parks, playgrounds, properties — and just about all over the place else. 

The hairs of the bug are toxic and might trigger a blistery rash, comparable to poison ivy, upon contact with pores and skin — which might happen from airborne hairs, not solely from direct contact with the bug itself. These hairs can stay in the surroundings lengthy after they have been shed from the insect’s physique. 

If they’re breathed in, the tiny hairs can even trigger severe respiratory misery — a heightened concern in the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Children and adults have been warned to keep away from contact with them. 

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has declared the creepy crawlies a public well being nuisance. There have been experiences of extra caterpillars than common in the state since their lively season started in April, and so they have expanded to all 16 counties because the season reaches its peak. 

Health officers say that almost all of people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash, which might final from a couple of hours up to a number of days. For some who’re extra delicate, the rash could be extreme, lasting for a number of weeks.

The rash is a consequence not solely of the barbed hairs embedding into the pores and skin, but additionally from a chemical response to the toxic toxin in the hairs. 

Close-up view of Browntail moth caterpillar on a leaf.

State of Maine Department of Health and Human Services

According to the Bangor Daily News, neighborhood Facebook teams have been dominated by discussions on the varied methods to deal with the rash in current weeks. 

“We have had people coming in looking for remedies,” Christine Cattan, a pharmacist at Bangor Drug Company, advised the newspaper. “It can be hard to diagnose just by looking because [the rash] kind of looks like prickly heat but it does have a characteristic mottled looking effect.”

Luckily, there are some straightforward methods to deal with the rash, together with ice packs, ibuprofen and topical lotions. 

“Any sort of antihistamine will help,” Cattan stated. “I also recommend people use a nice hydrocortisone cream with aloe to soothe the irritation.”

The threat of publicity to the hairs decreases after June however continues all through the summer time. 

According to the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the caterpillars started pupating earlier this year than they sometimes do, possible due to a hotter spring. The silk cocoons surrounding these pupae include the ultimate pores and skin of the caterpillars, which means they’re full of poisonous hairs. 

“Generally speaking, this year will be as bad or worse than last year in terms of potential encounters with browntail moth,” officers on the division stated. “Browntail moth populations in Maine have been in an outbreak phase since 2015, and populations last year continued to increase.” 

Several cities at the moment are raising awareness on prevention strategies, together with altering garments after outside actions, sporting a masks, goggles and coveralls when doing actions like yard work and drying laundry inside.