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Health warning over Oak Processionary Moth Caterpillar

We are aware of an increasing problem in the local area from oak processionary moth catrerpillars. These caterpillars are covered in tiny hairs that can cause severe asthma attacks and allergic reactions. Until recently, the moth was found only in mainland Europe, but in 2006 it was discovered on oak trees in Ealing and Richmond, in London. The caterpillars feed on oak leaves and produce silken nests on the trunks of affected trees. There is no natural predator. The hairs can cause symptoms if the caterpillars or their nests are touched, but they can also be carried on the wind. The most common symptoms are an unpleasant rash. Less common problems are sore throats, breathing difficulties or eye problems. Asthma UK has advised those with asthma always to remember to carry a reliever inhaler with them in case of an unexpected attack.

The caterpillars or their nests should not be touched. You should not attempt to remove them, but should report them to one of the addresses given below.

Who is affected by these caterpillars? The caterpillars’ hairs can affect anyone, but asthmatics in particular are at risk of having a severe attack. The hairs can also affect animals, including dogs, cats and horses, so people are also encouraged to keep their pets and livestock away from infested trees.

Why do these moths cause health problems? Health problems are most common when the caterpillar is in its last stages of development in late May and early June, before becoming a moth. This is because the caterpillars are covered with tiny hairs that contain a toxin (thaumetopoein or closely related compounds). If these hairs and toxins come into contact with the skin they can cause symptoms.

What sort of symptoms do they cause? If the hairs or toxins come into contact with the skin they can cause a very itchy skin rash. If they come into contact with the eyes they can cause itchy eyes. Can the symptoms be serious? People vary in their response - not everyone reacts to the caterpillar hairs. The most common problem is an itchy rash which is unpleasant but not dangerous.

What should I do if I develop these symptoms? The recommended treatment includes an oral antihistamine, such as cetirizine or loratadine. Speak to your chemist for advice. If the itching keeps you awake, a sedating antihistamine such as chlorphenamine (Piriton®) may help in addition. Topical steroid cream such as hydrocortisone can also be purchased from the chemist and this may soothe the rash further.  If your symptoms are not responding to this, ask for a telephone consultation with your GP. If you have any breathing difficulty, consider booking an appointment or A&E in extreme cases.

What should I do if I see a nest? Anyone who thinks they have found oak processionary caterpillars or their nests should not touch them or attempt to remove them, but should report their sightings to the Forestry Commission with its Tree Alert on-line pest reporting tool, giving as precise details as possible about the location.

Private Prescriptions 
Please be advised that prescriptions issued by a Private Consultant cannot be converted into NHS Prescriptions. You need to take your Private Presciption to a Chemist who will advise you of the charge. Even if this is high, we are not allowed by new NHS rules to issue them.





Health Advice For 16-25 Year Olds

If you are aged between 16 and 25 years old, we recommend that you read the information on this page:

You will find everything from relationship and sexual health advice to confidential Sexually Transmitted Disease (STI) testing and access to free contraception.

With more and more cases of sexually transmitted infections (STI) being diagnosed, the chances of picking up an STI may be greater than you think.

Watch a video about sexually transmitted infections

As well as unpleasant symptoms, STIs have consequences. Even those without obvious symptoms may cause infertility and other long-term health damage.

According to the Health Protection Agency, more than a third of the 400,000 new cases of STIs reported in the UK in 2008 were in young people aged 16 to 24. 

Whether you’re single or in a new relationship, the message is clear: if you’re sexually active, the best way to reduce the likelihood of getting an STI is always to use a condom.


Chlamydia is the most common STI among young people (genital warts is the second most common). It often has no symptoms and, if left untreated, can lead to infertility for both men and women.

You can only be sure you don't have chlamydia by taking a test. Male and female students under the age of 25 can get tested for chlamydia free on the NHS at various places including their GP, a community contraceptive clinic (family planning clinic), a genitourinary medicine (GUM) clinic and some pharmacies.

If the test is positive, chlamydia is easily treated with antibiotics, which are free from the places listed above. 

There is also an oral antibiotic available without a prescription from pharmacies to treat chlamydia. The azithromycin pill (Clamelle) is available to over-16s who test positive for the infection and have no symptoms, and for their sexual partners. You will have to pay for this treatment.

To find out more, call the National Chlamydia Screening Programme helpline on 0800 567 123, or go to the National Chlamydia Screening Programme website.

Other common infections

Other common STIs among students include genital warts, genital herpes and gonorrhoea. HIV infection is less common but does happen in young people. In 2009, under-25s made up 11% of all new cases in the UK.

Most of these infections can be prevented by using condoms. Choose ones that carry the British Kitemark or European CE mark, which are recognised quality standards.

"Some people think that if they test negative for chlamydia, they’re OK," says Dr Alyson Elliman, spokesperson for the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare at the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

"But be aware that other STI's, such as gonorrhoea, can be symptomless too. Ideally, you should combine safe sex with regular sexual health check-ups, especially in the early stages of a new relationship."

Choosing contraception

Contraception and contraceptive advice is free for students in the UK. With 15 methods of contraception to choose from, there should be one that’s right for you. If you choose one that fits with your lifestyle, you’ll be more likely to use it properly and it will be more effective.

Long-acting, reversible contraceptives, such as injections, the implant (also called Implanon), IUD (intrauterine device, sometimes known as a coil) and Mirena IUS (intrauterine system, or hormone-releasing coil) could be a good choice for female students.

"They’re the most effective types of contraception and they work for months or years at a time without you needing to remember to take a pill every day," she says.

If you use a continuous method of contraception for birth control, combine it with using a condom to prevent STIs with new partners. You can get contraception for free from:

  • any GP
  • community contraceptive clinics
  • some GUM clinics
  • sexual health clinics (these offer contraceptive and STI testing services)
  • Brook advisory centres (for under-25s)


Emergency contraception

This is contraception you can use to reduce the possibility of pregnancy when you've had unprotected sex or when you think your usual method might not have worked. There are two types of emergency contraception:

  • the emergency contraceptive pill (sometimes called the morning-after pill)
  • the emergency IUD

The pill needs to be taken as soon as possible after unprotected sex. It works best within the first 24 hours, but it is licensed for use up to 72 hours afterwards and still has an effect for up to 120 hours.

You can get the emergency pill free from the sources of free contraception listed above. In addition, some accident and emergency units provide the emergency contraception pill for free. Women can buy the emergency pill from most pharmacies. It costs around £26.

The IUD may prevent an egg being fertilised or implanted in your uterus. It needs to be inserted by a specially trained doctor or nurse within five days of sex, but could be inserted later depending on your menstrual cycle. If you think you’ve left it too late, it’s still worth discussing the options with a doctor or nurse.

Most community contraceptive clinics and GP surgeries will have at least one doctor or nurse who is able to fit an emergency IUD. It’s a good idea to telephone first to check. You can also use the IUD as an ongoing contraceptive method.

Unplanned pregnancy

It’s common to feel shock and panic when facing an unplanned pregnancy. Professionals are on hand to give information and support. The three choices are to keep the baby, have an abortion, or have the baby and have it adopted or fostered.

It can be a difficult and complicated decision and it may help to talk to someone. You can get impartial advice from your GP, a community contraception clinic, Brook advisory centre or other young person’s service.

To get an abortion free on the NHS, you will need to be referred by a doctor. This can be your own GP, or a doctor at a local community contraception clinic, sexual health clinic or Brook advisory centre.

Read more about abortion.

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