A mum has issued a warning to other parents after her children were stung by toxic caterpillars while playing in a park.
Caroline Berry and her two children – Annie, two, and George, five – developed a painful rash after they came into contact with the poisonous tiny hairs that cover the bugs’ bodies.
The family came into contact with the juvenile form of oak processionary moths on Tugmutton Common, near Bromley, south London.
As the name suggests, oak processionary moths are predominantly found on oak trees.
The species, not native to the UK, was accidentally introduced in 2005. The government has since been trying to stop the spread.
Their toxic hairs become airborne and irritate skin even without direct contact, often after settling on surfaces away from the insects.
According to NHS, contact with the hairs can cause itching skin rashes and, less commonly, sore throats, breathing difficulties and eye irritations. In rare cases it can cause an allergic reaction.
“Within minutes my son came to me, having fallen in the grass near the football goals and said his wrist hurt,” Berry said.
“On inspection it looked like he may have been bitten or was getting a little prickly heat.
“He asked if we could go home and I could see he was upset so I agreed.
“As I was packing our bits away my two-year-old daughter came over to me saying her foot hurt.”
Within minutes both children were screaming, Berry said.
“My son has been awfully affected,” she said, “and I began vomiting the evening of our encounter with the hairs and then developed the rash.”
Berry described the reaction as being “like a thousand gnat bites and prickly heat all at the same time.
“We are still suffering a week on, regardless of the steroids, creams and medicines given to us by our doctor.
“We’re told it could take as long as three weeks to clear up.”
The council has now told local residents to lookout for the insects and says a 500m monitoring zone is being set up around the main affected woodland, also known as Farnborough Recreation Ground.
Meanwhile, infested trees have been painted with an orange band and an A4 sign has been attached to the park railings.
But Berry is urging the council to introduce further protection measures, and since being stung herself has taken to Next Door, a resident’s forum to spread her own warning.
“Residents are strongly advised not to touch the caterpillars or interfere with the nests as the microscopic hairs from the caterpillars contain a toxin that are known to cause itchy skin rashes, itchy eyes and a sore throat,” a press release from Bromley council said.
“If individuals suspect that they have been exposed to the caterpillar’s hairs and have these symptoms they should contact their GP or NHS Direct, advising them of the potential contact they have had.”
Bromley Council’s William Huntington-Thresher said in a statement: “We are taking action on Tugmutton Common to remove the caterpillars and nest and will be monitoring the situation locally to this area.
“It is important that dog walkers in particular, through to youngsters messing around having fun in general, remain extremely vigilant as this pest represents a potentially extremely serious health issue for anybody who comes into contact with it.
“It is not only a health hazard to humans but also threatens loved pets as the hairs of the caterpillars are toxic and so should not be touched under any circumstances. Please report concerns if you come across them.”
Yahoo UK has contacted Bromley Council for comment.
If individuals suspect that they have been exposed to the caterpillar’s hairs and start to show symptoms, they should contact their GP or NHS Direct, advising them of the potential contact they have had.
Additional reporting SWNS.