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Maine issues browntail moth advisory amid fall activities

This fall, residents and visitors are at risk of exposure to the hairs in all of Maine's 16 counties.

MAINE, USA — With fall set to officially begin on Thursday, seasonal outdoor activities such as apple picking, hiking, corn mazes, and even lawn clean-up are on the rise.

The Maine Dept. of Health and Human Services issued an advisory in a news release Tuesday to remind the public to stay cautious of browntail moth hairs amid fall activities.

"Hairs from browntail moth caterpillars can get stirred up during fall yardwork," the release said. "These tiny hairs can cause a skin reaction similar to poison ivy. They can also cause trouble breathing and other respiratory problems."

Residents and visitors are at risk of exposure to the hairs in all of Maine's 16 counties, according to the release.

While the browntail moth hairs are typically shed from April to late July, they can still remain toxic for up to three years after being shed, according to Maine DHHS. In fall specifically, these hairs can blow in the wind and settle on leaves and brush.

State health officials say activities such as raking, sweeping, and mowing may cause the hairs to become airborne, causing breathing problems and skin rashes.

"Most people affected by the hairs develop a localized rash that lasts for a few hours up to several days," the release said. "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."

When it comes to treating the symptoms from browntail moth hairs, working towards relieving the symptoms is the standard treatment, according to the release.

Credit: NEWS CENTER Maine
The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry says the state is in the midst of a browntail moth outbreak.

Maine DHHS listed the following steps to take to avoid and reduce exposure to browntail moth hair while outdoors this fall:

  • "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 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, such as under decks."

For more information about browntail moths, click here.

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