These caterpillars are poisoning people in Maine, causing painful rashes

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Another insect is wreaking havoc in Maine in the midst of the cicada’s invasion – a poisonous caterpillar. 

The browntail moth caterpillar has been seen in multiple counties in Maine and is an invasive species only found there and Cape Cod. The hairs of the moth contain poison and can cause a reaction similar to poison ivy, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. 

“People are finding them everyplace: on the ground, on the picnic table, on the electrical box, on the corner – you name it, “Jim Britt, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, told the New York Times.  

The moths can be identified by their 1.5-inch length, dark brown with white stripes and two orange dots on their back. 

The hairs from the moth can go airborne. When they come into contact with a person’s skin, they can cause a rash that lasts several hours, or for those with sensitive skin, the rash can last several weeks.  

If the hairs are inhaled, respiratory distress can be serious, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said. 

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The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention declared the critter a public health nuisance and the city of Bangor said they were formulating a plan to address the infestations popping up around the city and other locations in a Facebook post

Amanda Umble told Bangor Daily News she didn’t recall coming into contact with one when she broke out in a rash on her forearm. 

“It feels like you have bugs in your bed,” Umble said. “It feels like things are on me the whole night biting me.”  

Umble told the paper she tried Benadryl cream unsuccessfully, then tried Cortisone 10 which worked better to clear her rash up after about a week. There are no specific treatments for the rash, but experts say a cool bath with baking soda, hydrocortisone cream and calamine lotion can help.

State officials said this year’s invasion may be advanced because of a warmer spring. 

Several municipalities have advised residents to wear goggles, take cool showers and to dry laundry inside until the exposure to the hairs decreases after summer. 

Maine isn’t the only state seeing an uptick in caterpillars this season. Vermont is experiencing its worst outbreak of leaf-munching gypsy moth caterpillars since 1991, according to state foresters. 

Follow reporter Asha Gilbert @Coastalasha. Email: agilbert@usatoday.com.