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Gypsy Moth Caterpillars Causing Itchy Rashes

HYANNIS (CBS) -- Gypsy moth caterpillars are known for eating leaves and ruining plants, but now, they are causing damage in another way.

"For the last two weeks, as the caterpillars get larger, we're starting to see people getting intense, itchy rashes," said Dr. Bruce Gordon.

gypsy moth rash
The gypsy moth rash. (WBZ-TV)

Gordon and his colleagues at Cape Cod Ear, Nose and Throat in Hyannis have seen a number of rashes caused by gypsy moth caterpillars.

"It starts with an itch, it gets red, it swells up, and then it takes several days to get better, and that's typically an allergic reaction," explained Gordon. He added that the rash is not dangerous, just annoying.

Colleen Clark from Dennis is experiencing the rash first-hand. "They were extremely itchy, close to poison ivy itchy," she described.

Richard Ervin from Harwich has a similar struggle. "I tried not to touch it, but I couldn't help it!" he told WBZ-TV.

Both found gypsy moth caterpillars on them after being outside. The next day, they had rashes.

Gordon said that the rash is caused by tiny hairs on young caterpillars. The hairs contain histamines, which could cause a brief reaction.

The itchy threat will be around for the next few weeks.

Gypsy moth caterpillars. (WBZ-TV)

"It'll continue until [the caterpillars] basically form their pupas, and get ready for the next years cycle," said Gordon.

Ervin said he is certain he will be careful from now on and Clarke agreed.

"Now it's like I have to think about this when I walk with the dog in the woods," she said. "I'm zipping up my shirt all the way, so nothing crawls down my shirt and stuff."

Gordon said that most itch relief can be taken care of with over-the-counter solutions.

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