AUGUSTA — The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Forest Service and 211 Maine remind the public to take precautions now that browntail moth caterpillars are emerging from their webs in trees. The caterpillars are covered with tiny hairs, which are shed and can become airborne, potentially causing a skin reaction like poison ivy and  trouble breathing if inhaled. All counties in southern, midcoast, Down East, and south-central Maine are at some risk of browntail moth exposure.

The greatest risk for exposure to the toxic hairs is from now through July when the moths are active. The hairs can land anywhere, including on trees, gardens, lawns, and decks. The hairs remain toxic in the environment for one to three years, and can be stirred up by activities such as mowing, raking and sweeping.

Browntail moth caterpillar

Most affected individuals develop a localized rash that lasts from a few hours to several days. In more sensitive individuals, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Respiratory distress from inhaling the hairs can be serious. The rash and difficulty breathing result from both a chemical reaction to a toxin in the hairs and a physical irritation as the barbed hairs become embedded in the skin and airways.

There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by exposure to browntail moth hairs. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms and eliminating ongoing exposure.

Browntail moth caterpillars are easy to identify. They are dark brown with white stripes along the sides and two red-orange dots on the back. Younger caterpillars may lack the white stripes.

Steps Mainers can take to protect themselves from browntail moth hairs:

• Avoid places infested by caterpillars;

• Wear a face mask when working outside;

• Wear long sleeves, pants and a hat and tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists and ankles;

• Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities in infested areas;

• Dry laundry inside during June and July to avoid hairs embedding into clothing.

Contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on browntail moths: Dial 211 (or 207-874-2211) or text your ZIP code to 898-211. More information is also available on the Maine CDC Browntail Moth Webpage: www.maine.gov/dhhs/browntailmoth and the Maine Forest Service Browntail Moth Webpage: www.maine.gov/dacf/mfs/forest_health/invasive_threats/browntail_moth_info.htm


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