Officials: browntail moth hairs a risk for fall activities
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Officials: browntail moth hairs a risk for fall activities

Apr 30, 2023

State officials are again warning Mainers about the risks associated with browntail moth hairs.

Hairs from browntail moth caterpillars can get stirred up during fall yardwork and can cause a skin reaction similar to poison ivy. That's according to a news release from the Maine Department of Health and Human Services in conjunction with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Forest Service and 211 Maine.

The hairs can also cause trouble breathing and other respiratory problems, according to the release.

Browntail moth caterpillars grow and shed hairs from April to late June or early July, and the hairs remain toxic in the environment for up to three years. Hairs can spread through the wind and become airborne again through mowing, raking, sweeping and other activities.

People in every county in Maine are at risk of exposure, according to the release.

Often, the hairs will cause a rash that lasts for a few hours or up to several days – in some cases rashes can be severe and last for weeks. In worse cases, they can cause difficulty breathing and respiratory distress.

Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.

The state recommends the following steps to reduce exposure to browntail moth hairs while working outdoors:

If possible, do yardwork when leaves are wet to prevent hairs from becoming airborne.

Do not rake, use leaf blowers or mow the lawn on dry days.

Do not dry laundry outside where hairs can cling to clothing.

Cover your face and any exposed skin by wearing a long sleeve shirt, long pants, goggles, a respirator/dust mask, a hat and a disposable coverall.

Secure clothing around the neck, wrists and ankles.

Apply pre-contact poison ivy wipes to help reduce hairs sticking to exposed skin.

Take a cool shower to wash off loose hairs.

Change clothes after outdoor activities.

Use extra caution when bringing in items stored outdoors, such as firewood, or working in areas sheltered from the rain, such as under decks.

For more information, contact 211 Maine by dialing 211 or 1-866-811-5695, or texting your ZIP code to 898-211.

Additional information may be found at the Maine CDC Browntail Moth website and Maine Forest Service Browntail Moth website, or see the Maine Forest Service Browntail Moth Aerial Survey Dashboard.