Gypsy moth infestation creating an itchy situation for RIers

SMITHFIELD, R.I. (WPRI) — It’s no secret gypsy moths can have devastating effects on trees. Now, the insects are causing some people who come in contact with them to break out in rashes.

Eyewitness News has learned the problem was so bad, Old County Road Elementary School in Smithfield even kept recess indoors one day last week and on other days, kept students off the playground equipment where the caterpillars seemed to be gathering.

After receiving a lot of letters, the Northeast District Department of Health released a memo last week about gypsy moths.

Experts said the caterpillars don’t bite, rather it’s their hair that can cause skin irritation.

Reactions can vary from a small itchy rash to larger bumps and even blisters. The reaction usually appears in a line and is often mistaken for poison ivy or another allergy.

Experts said discomfort begins within eight to 12 hours and can last a few days up to two weeks. As for treatment, time and maybe topical creams – like cortizone – can help relieve the itching.

Doctors say the best solution is prevention – which means limiting exposure or wearing long sleeves, pants, and a hat when outside.

Old County Road Elementary said the recent rain has helped to get rid of some of the caterpillars and the playground restrictions have since been lifted.

Last week, Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management said the caterpillars did not pose a health risk and said the agency had no plans to spray in the state.

House Minority Leader Patricia Morgan has urged the state to take action against the caterpillars, Tuesday posting a picture of an infested tree on her Twitter account.