A close up of browntail moth caterpillars on a tree. The larvae have toxic hairs that can cause rashes and difficulty breathing, according to the Maine Forest Service. Courtesy

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Maine Forest Service and 211 Maine are reminding Maine residents and visitors about how to limit health risks posed by browntail moth hairs this fall.

Hairs from browntail moth caterpillars can get stirred up during fall yardwork, according to a statement from the Maine CDC. These tiny hairs can cause a skin reaction like poison ivy and cause trouble breathing and other respiratory problems. People in all 16 Maine counties are at some risk of exposure to browntail moth hairs.

Browntail moth caterpillars grow and shed their hairs from April to late June or early July. The hairs remain toxic in the environment for up to three years, although they lose toxicity over time. Hairs blow around in the air and fall onto leaves and brush. Mowing, raking, sweeping and other activities can cause the hairs to become airborne, increasing the risk of skin and breathing problems.

Browntail moths. Photo by James Dill

Most people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that lasts for a few hours up to several days. In some people, the rash can be severe and last for weeks. Hairs may also cause trouble breathing in some people, which may result in respiratory distress. There is no specific treatment for the rash or breathing problems caused by browntail moth hairs. Treatment focuses on relieving symptoms.

To reduce exposure to browntail moth hairs while working outdoors, the CDC recommends the following:

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.

If respirators are difficult to find, performing activities in damp conditions with a cloth face covering may reduce the risk of inhaling caterpillar hairs.

Apply pre-contact poison ivy wipes to help keep hairs from sticking into 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, like under decks.

For more information, contact 211 Maine for answers to frequently asked questions on browntail moths: Dial 211 (or 1-866-811-5695); Text your ZIP code to 898-211; Maine CDC Browntail Moth website: maine.gov/dhhs//browntailmoth; Maine Forest Service Browntail Moth website: maine.gov/dacf/mfs/forest_health/invasive_threats/browntail_moth_info.htm

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