Caterpillar Invasion in London Puts People at Risk of Deadly Allergic Reactions

Caterpillars that can cause potentially deadly allergic reactions have invaded parts of London, England, officials warn.

Caterpillars of the oak processionary moth started emerging from eggs in mid-April, the Forestry Commission said, The New York Times reported.

Long white hairs released by the caterpillars can cause allergic reactions in people who are allergic. Reactions can range from skin and eye irritation, to difficulty breathing and even anaphylactic shock.

"At best, you can get contact dermatitis. At worst, you can die," Jason Dombroskie, manager of the Cornell University Insect Collection and coordinator of the Insect Diagnostic Lab in Ithaca, N.Y. told The Times.

"You can go into anaphylactic shock and have your airways close up. The airborne hairs set up a whole different ballgame," he said.

The Forestry Commission is treating trees in affected areas with biopesticides, which use viruses or bacteria that target the caterpillars. The treatment of trees at more than 600 sites is expected to continue until late May or early June, The Times reported.

"We advise people not to pick up the caterpillar or pick up the nest," a spokeswoman for Britain's Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said. She added that there have been no reports of serious illness due to contact with the caterpillars.

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