John Clark warning you not to read on if you’re squeamish. I wasn’t going to blog about my ongoing experience with rural terrorists, but so many I’ve encountered recently had no clue about them that I decided to go forth.
It started right after we moved into our new home. Beth and I would be sitting at our computers or reading in bed and if felt like swarms of invisible insects would start biting. I ruled out bed bugs and couldn’t see any minges, but dust mites seemed a possibility. A couple weeks later, the attacks ceased. Little did we know what was coming.
My one doable project before fall was cutting back and pulling out vines and small trees so we could reclaim the back 20 or so feet of our property. I started by pruning the wild rose growing around a decaying stump. That went well, so I moved on to a general clearing of everything save for the trees we wanted to keep. There were plenty of small ash and maples, more of the wild rose and a mind boggling amount of the Japanese Bittersweet. There were a few plants that looked like poison ivy, but I was wearing gloves, so I figured I was safe.
The Monday before Lea Wait’s memorial gathering, I started itching and my arms, stomach and left ear got decidedly unhappy. I applied calamine lotion in liberal doses and looked like a badly decorated doughnut by the time I arrived at the memorial. It proceeded to get worse. The itching and redness became a mass of leaking agony, so bad at times, that I found relief by scraping the affected areas with a letter opener in order to get the itch under control. Benadryl spray, hydrocortisone cream, witch hazel and more calamine seemed to make things worse. I’d hoped to gut it out, but a trip to the doctor’s on Monday (the soonest I could get in) was arranged.
Early on, I noticed something that seemed odd, but became the clue leading me to the true culprit. I noticed what looked like a couple tiny spiders under my skin. One was on my right arm, the other on my abdomen. I was able to dig them out and a couple days later while researching causes other than poison ivy, discovered they were the hairs from the browntail moth caterpillar. I learned through more research that those supposed insect attacks right after we moved in were likely more hail misery thanks to the caterpillars.
You’d think the itching couldn’t get any worse…WRONG. I take extended release niacin to help control elevated cholesterol. One of the side effects is an occasional semi-nuclear hot flash, accompanied by all-over-the-body itching. One hit me around 2 am and it made me thankful I sold my chainsaw before we moved, because I would have found a way to cut off both arms at the elbow.
My nurse practitioner had never heard of the rash caused by these little devils, but she keeps her laptop handy and the first image of an affected person looked exactly like my arms. Prednisone and Vistaril over a 5 day period brought me back to sanity. However, the spines/hairs are shed and lurk in leaves, grass, etc., so I’m still wobbling on the edge of another outbreak.
Here’s a link to the Maine CDC info page on these devils. https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/vector-borne/browntail-moth/index.shtml Supposedly, they aren’t this far north in Maine, but tell my skin that and see what a reaction you get.