DEAR SUN SPOTS: I was wondering if you could find out what the city of Auburn is planning to do to eradicate the pesky browntail moth caterpillars that are infesting our trees. My grandson and I went to Tot Lot playground and East Auburn playground recently and even though we were careful to avoid any caterpillars, we both developed severe rashes. Between ticks and caterpillars, it isn’t safe or enjoyable to be outdoors in Maine! Hopefully, Auburn is planning some kind of mass spraying. Thank you for all the information you supply to your readers. — Maureen, no town

ANSWER: According to Auburn’s assistant public works director, a press release went out with information about the city’s treatment of these pests this past spring. City workers treated trees in the area and cut out branches where caterpillar nests were apparent. Call the public services department at 333-6601 to let them know what you’ve experienced at public parks and spaces.

This year, the prevalence of these critters has spiked in Androscoggin, Sagadahoc, Cumberland, Lincoln, Knox and Waldo counties. You can be exposed to the caterpillar’s fine hairs and get the uncomfortable itchy rash without even laying your eyes on an actual caterpillar. Throughout much of its life cycle, the moth sheds its toxic hairs which become airborne or attach to leaves and brush. When the barbed hairs come into contact with your skin or lungs, they can cause the rashes or respiratory issues. Issues are reported most in June and July when the toxin concentration in mature larvae is at its highest.

Unfortunately, treatment for browntail moth caterpillars can only be done in the spring. Don’t give up on the great outdoors! Educate and protect yourself with appropriate clothing and repellents as well as you can.

I do sympathize. I’ve had that rash and it’s pretty ferocious. There are prescription sprays and lotions that work really well, but if you can’t get it right away, cool baths with the addition of baking soda followed with an application of calamine lotion will help relieve the pain and itchiness.

There is also this recipe for a homemade version of the prescription-strength lotion. Combine equal parts hydrocortisone 1% (e.g. Cortizone 10), diphenhydramine hydrochloride 2% and zinc acetate 0.1% (e.g. Extra Strength Benadryl), benzocaine 20% (e.g. Lanacane), and pramoxine hydrochloride 1% (e.g. Itch-X). Although not as strong as a pharmaceutically compounded lotion, it will provide some relief.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: A while ago I emailed Sun Spots (May 28) to report that when I tried to buy groceries at Food City and found I had forgotten my wallet, a woman behind me in line paid for them and I promised to pay it forward. I wanted to let you know that I did. I left $100 with one of the cashiers to pay for groceries for those behind me in line until the money ran out.  I hope some of those people also pay it forward in the future. — Neil, no town

ANSWER: That’s great, Neil! I’m so glad you were able to do that. It must have felt wonderful to you and to the Food City customers who were recipients of your generosity.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name. We won’t use it if you ask us not to. Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be emailed to [email protected].

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