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.
Well, you’d just struck the Maine tourist industry another blow! I hear they particularly like oak trees. And now you’ll have to suit up for any yard work like a beekeeper or someone trying to repel ticks. So sorry for this.
All I did the other day was reach behind a shrub to turn on the water to the garden hose. Back to the calamine. It’s worse in late spring when the buggers are on the move, but the hairs are around all year. Check for the nests over the winter, cut out the ones you can. And burn them! You can buy acecaps to treat the trees. Treat before Memorial Day next year. They worked wonders this year and it looks like the oak will survive.
The first time I went to the dr with the rash, about 10 years ago, she had no idea what it was, either.
Thanks for the info. I also read that spraying BT in early spring can help reduce them.
So sorry you had such an awful experience. I sympathize. My situation wasn’t nearly as dire, but I had chronic itchy rashes for years from the meds I was taking for high blood pressure. HIBK!
Wow! Living in Florida one expects misery here year round with all kinds of bugs, plants, etc., but what a surprise to read about the caterpillars! I hope you are feeling better.
Oh, John (and Beth) you have my sympathy.
I lived on Peaks Island when the Casco Bay islands were an epicenter of browntail moth caterpillar infestation. I never had a bad case, but many of my friends did. Some had good results with the homeopathic remedy Rhus Tox (also used to treat poison ivy homeopathically).
But as you say, vigilance is the key. In the fall when you rake leaves, make sure to wear long sleeves and gloves. Tuck your socks into your pant legs (as for a walk through tick habitat). Don’t hang your laundry on an outdoor line (heartbreaking advice, but if you do that, it might be why you were itchy in bed). Those little cilia from the caterpillars stick to everything and they stick around longer than you might expect.
Poison Ivy rash is bad enough, but this?! I am soooo glad we have not encountered such a nasty leave-behind here in north central Ohio. We do have yellow hairy caterpiggles that will cause a rash, only you have to actually touch them. One summer my young nephew found some and let them crawl all over his arms and legs. He had a full body rash for weeks. This is the same boy who peed in the woods and got poison ivy…guess where. So glad you figured out the problem, but now you have the unpleasant task of avoiding it in the future.