OAKLAND — Oakland Pharmacy makes a spray to treat browntail moth caterpillar rash. Usually, they make several hundred bottles, but this year so far they have made and sold close to 600.

Owner and pharmacist at Oakland, Fairfield and Unity pharmacies Shane Savage said, “It’s crazy this year.”

With browntail moth caterpillars populations skyrocketing across central Maine this season, consumers are reporting store shelves empty of itch creams and other remedies while shop owners say they’re seeing record-breaking demand. Waterville city officials have declared a public health emergency as the caterpillars have spread into the region like never before.

Getting the supplies to make the browntail spray takes up to three days for the Fairfield pharmacy. Last week, Oakland Pharmacy had a rush of people for the prescription spray, but with the weekend rush coupled with increased rashes this year, there is no way they can anticipate the needed number of sprays.

However, Savage said they continue to make the spray and are in full swing of production and sales.

Browntail moth rash is caused by poison hairs produced by browntail moth caterpillars. The caterpillars are dark brown, have white stripes along the sides and have two red-orange dots on the back. Reactions can occur when their hairs come into contact with skin or are inhaled.


A rash similar to poison ivy and trouble breathing are common reactions. Symptoms are known to last a few hours to several weeks. The rash itself usually looks like little raised red dots.

Fairfield resident Abbi LaVerdiere had the rash twice in the past three weeks.

“It has been absolutely awful, but I feel like I haven’t had it as bad as some people,” LaVerdiere said, adding that she’s managed the itchiness with at home remedies. “This second time hasn’t been as bad as it was the first time I had it. I have not seen my doctor for it, because it’s manageable.”

Marlene Bernier, who lives on China Lake, has had a similar experience to LaVerdiere.

“I had the rash almost two weeks, a week and a half,” said Bernier. She described not being able to find relief.

Bernier attempted many remedies including apple cider vinegar, cortisone and CBD oils. She “couldn’t find witch hazel anywhere” at local stores.


That’s been backed up by posts across social media, as locals have taken to Twitter and Facebook to report stores empty of itch remedies.

But in Augusta, Kennebec Pharmacy & Home Care is seeing “no shortage of supplies,” according to Vice President of Pharmacy Services Steven Royer.

“We’ve ramped up our supplies to meet demand,” said Royer. The demand has increased in comparison to years past. “Last week was definitely high demand.”

Kennebec Pharmacy does not sell over-the-counter browntail moth rash treatment, and according to Royer it is a prescription item that they sell.

The Maine Department of Agriculture says the state has been in an outbreak phase since 2015, “and populations last year continued to increase.”

An aerial survey mapped damage and determined in 2021 the highest browntail moth caterpillar populations exist in Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc and Waldo counties.

Community social media pages, like Friends of China, Maine Facebook page, have attempted to collaborate on ways to deal with the moths and to urge their towns to take more action with the pests. The state is leaving it up to each city or town to handle the populations and their subsequent damage. These pages have been sharing when and where to find witch hazel and other ingredients for various do it yourself moth treatment.

Ingredients like Cortizone are used make a cream for those suffering from exposure to browntail moth caterpillar hairs. Brisk sales of the item has left shelves bare Wednesday at Fairfield Pharmacy. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Mainers can dial 211 for answers to frequently asked questions about browntail moths. Some tips on how to avoid getting the rash is available on Maine.gov. The state recommends if you are outside in potentially infested areas to “tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles” along with taking cool showers and changing clothes afterwards.

MaineGeneral Medical Center has released their own over the counter remedy recipe. The recipe calls for: 1/4 cup witch hazel; 1/2 tube hydrocortisone cream; and 1/4 tube aspercream or Lidocaine cream. Simply combine the ingredients in a plastic spray bottle and shake well.

Related Headlines

Comments are no longer available on this story