Medicine

Londoners warned of health threat from toxic caterpillars

Londoners warned of health threat from toxic caterpillars

The larvae of the oak processionary moth are now emerging from eggs all across southeast England, including the capital city. If people come into contact with this protein, it can cause rashes, itchy skin or, more rarely, a sore throat, eye itching and breathing difficulties.

A spokesman for the Forestry Commission said: "Our trees in London, Surrey and other parts of the South East are under attack from an unlikely source". Used as a protection from predators, the hair can be easily picked up and carried by the wind, leading to an unsuspecting individual accidentally being exposed to it. At worst, you can die. "You can go into anaphylactic shock and have your airways close up".

They swarm in large numbers, proceed in a nose-to-tail line up and down trees, and full-grown caterpillars can be covered in up to 63,000 poisonous hairs, or setae.

The larvae of the OPM (known academically as Thaumetopoea processionea) were first identified as beginning to emerge from egg clusters in mid-April, and trees containing the clusters were treated on April 23, as reported by a Forestry Commission statement.




Because the moths' natural predators are not present in the United Kingdom, the moths run rampant; and, in spite of Forestry Commission efforts to halt the epidemic, outbreaks have recurred in many years since 2006. With no natural predators, the invasive species has continued to rapidly spread across southern Britain, particularly the London area. There have been no reports of severe reactions due to caterpillar contact, so far. "We have agriculture inspectors going around, but half of the new things in the USA are found by the public who send it in". "This is where the true toxicity of the caterpillar arises".

A number of oak processionary moths, a non native species which was accidentally introduced to the United Kingdom from southern Europe. Once they become adult moths in July or August, they generally only live for three days.

The commission said in an information brochure that they can also pose a hazard to the oak trees in which they normally nest, as they eat the leaves.


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