The Oak Processionary is a moth whose caterpillars are found only on oak trees. They are considered a pest that can be a hazard to the health of not only oak trees, but humans and animals. The caterpillars have thousands of tiny hairs that contain an irritating substance called thaumetopoein. These barbed hairs can be blown about by the wind, and upon contact, can cause itchy skin rashes, eye and throat irritations, and, less commonly, breathing difficulties in people and animals. Each caterpillar can have about 1000 of these barbed hairs.
Community members are reminded to stay away from the caterpillars and the nests, as those can contain thousands of shed hairs. The greatest risk period is May through July. USAG Ansbach has hired pest control professionals to safely remove the nests. The affected areas have been fenced off.
Oak Processionary Moth caterpillars reside in the upper branches of oak trees commonly found in relatively isolated areas at the edge of a forest or parks and playgrounds. They are often found wrapping in bundles around tree trunks and trailing in long lines or processions — hence the name — to and from their nests.
In the event of exposure to thaumetopoein, it is critical to shower and wash clothes immediately. Over-the-counter medication, such as anti-histamine creams, may help reduce inflammation and relieve symptoms. If symptoms persist or are concerning, contact the on-post health clinic or a local veterinarian clinic. Severe allergic reactions and asthma attacks warrant immediate medical attention.
Not everyone reacts to the toxins contained in Oak Processsionary Moth caterpillar hair. The most common symptoms of direct contact is an itchy or painful rash composed of several red spots along the affected skin and dermatitis, an inflammatory skin condition. Symptoms usually begin two to 12 hours after exposure and go away within three to six days.
To learn more, read an article published by USAG Bavaria last year at https://www.bavariannews.com/dangerous-caterpillars-discovered-at-grafenwoehr-training-area, or visit this link of the UK Forestry Commission at https://forestry.gov.uk/opm
The Regional Public Health Command Europe published a related article on the caterpillars as well: https://www.army.mil/article/206837