Maine officials are urging people working outside to protect themselves from the toxic hairs of the browntail moth caterpillar, which can cause rashes and breathing problems.
The caterpillars appear in April and are generally gone by early July, but the tiny hairs they shed can remain in the environment for years, say state health officials.
"While browntail moth caterpillars might not be as noticeable at this time of the year, their hairs remain toxic and in the environment for one to three years,” says Maine CDC Director Nirav Shah, in a statement.
The hairs can cause skin rashes, sometimes severe, along with breathing problems and other respiratory ailments, Shah says. And mowing grass, raking leaves and similar yard activities can send the barbed hairs flying.
“It is important that Mainers take the proper prevention measures when working outside this fall,” Shah says.
Those precautions, officials say, include covering up bare skin and wearing goggles and a dust mask or respirator, among other things.
They also recommend that people do yard work when the ground is wet, to avoid stirring up the hairs. Those affected by them usually develop a localized rash that can last for hours to several days. In some people, though, the rash can be severe, and breathing problems can be serious.
Treatment for such reactions consists of relieving the symptoms, officials say.
In April, state entomologists said that the scale of the browntail moth infestation this year was the worst Maine has seen in a century. The state's midcoast communities, such as Belfast, have been hit especially hard hit.
Learn more about the browntail moth here.