I Fell Victim to Maine’s Browntail Moth Crisis-Here’s How to Deal
On Father's Day, I woke up feeling itchy on the back of my right shoulder. I knew I had some mosquito bites. It's summertime in Maine after all. But something felt different. I checked myself out in the mirror and was HORRIFIED.
My entire upper back/shoulder area was COVERED in bumps. There were more on my chest and they were bad, but not as abundant as on my back. Fewer were on my arms. My first thought was hives. I had only had them once after coming off an antibiotic and it lasted for an hour, maybe.
The itching. OH MY GOSH, THE ITCHING. It was intense. And the bumps were quite hot to the touch. I didn't take anything because as I said, I thought I had hives for some reason. I did the Father's Day rounds and ended the day with my father, and stepmother, who's a nurse! I begged her for answers! After a quick verifying Google search, it was determined to be a browntail moth rash.
It made a lot of sense. The previous day I had been outside and those furry little caterpillars were out. I always thought you just shouldn't touch them and you'd be fine. Turns out it's their little hairs that are the irritant and if those hairs get in the air, no one's safe!
I popped a Benadryl when I got home in hopes I'd find enough relief to get me through until the next day. At the very least, allow me to sleep through the night.
I itched through the entire workday and got out as soon as I could to run to the store to get a bottle of anti-itch cream to swim in.
It became a topic of discussion on Buzz & Brittany in the Morning.
Thankfully the intense itching only lasted a few days and any trace of the rash is nearly gone now. I'm one of the lucky ones. I have friends who had the rash last for months.
I experienced a twisted sense of comfort knowing I wasn't alone when a news story from WGME popped up on my Facebook News Feed titled, "Moth infestation creates real-life 'horror film' for midcoast Mainers". The article described the struggle Belfast Chiropractor, Dr. Jane Robertson is going through constantly spraying her property with a mixture of vinegar and dish detergent to kill the caterpillars. As terrible as the rash is, Dr. Robertson said the worst part was feeling like a prisoner in her own home.
In addition to torturing us humans, these pesky caterpillars are causing some intense defoliation of trees. They are big fans of Oak, apple, birch trees and more.
University of Maine Professor, Ellie Groden theorized that the increase in browntail moth population is due to the hot, dry summers and warm fall seasons in recent years.
The Penobscot Bay Pilot recently published a story about the intense itching that comes along with the rash. Readers of the publication recommended the following remedies:
- Wipe the area with rubbing alcohol then applied calamine lotion and Benadryl extra strength gel
- Cucumber witch hazel body mist
- Advil and ice packs
- Bite Balm at Fresh off The Farm
- Vick’s Vapor Rub and Witch Hazel
- Benedryl amd hydrocortisone cream: same amount. Mix with Witch Hazel
- Sarna, Benadryl cream, witch hazel and calamine...Lidocaine lotion
- 1/4 cup witch hazel, 1/2 tube hydrocortisone cream, 1/2 tube of diphenhydramine cream, 1/4 tube aspercream or Lidocaine cream. Place all in plastic spray bottle and mix. Apply twice a day
The Maine Center for Disease Control issued a press release for those dealing with infestations encouraging folks to dial 2-1-1 for assistance. They also gave the following tips to protect yourself:
- Avoid places heavily infested by caterpillars
- Take cool showers and change clothes after outdoor activities in heavily infested areas
- Rake, mow, etc. when foliage is wet to prevent hairs from becoming airborne
- Cover face and tightly secure clothing around the neck, wrists, and ankles when working outdoors
- Dry laundry inside during June and July to avoid hairs embedding into clothing
While there is no specific treatment for the rash, Kennebec Pharmacy concocted their own mixture to help relieve the itch with their Browntail Moth Rash Spray. The formula includes ingredients that "help relieve itching, reduce inflammation, and soothe the skin to provide temporary relief from the symptoms of browntail moth rash," and is available by prescription only. Kennebec Pharmacy has locations in Augusta, Brunswick, and Rockport.
Beyond the rash, one can also experience respiratory problems. Per the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, if you experience difficulties breathing, swallowing, or swelling of your mouth, tongue, or throat, call 9-1-1.