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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.





Your Part To Play

How do you view your local surgery?

Most people view GP surgeries as a resource for when things go wrong, when they have a health concern or when their medical condition needs checking up.  In many ways, the care provided by GP surgeries is often reactive as patients in general look to their doctor to make things better when things go wrong.

Live longer live healthier

But the responsibility for your health and your sense of well being does not rest on doctors alone.  In fact, there is a growing body of evidence that shows that if patients, you, take responsibility for your own health, then you will live longer, and live healthier. 

So the question everyone must ask themselves is this:  “do you want to live longer and healthier?” If the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’, then read on.

Your three steps

Step one: minor illnesses - take responsibility and protect your health resources.  One in 5 appointments with a GP is for a minor illness such as a cough, cold, flu, rash, or back pain. Whilst minor illnesses never feel minor at the time, in the majority of cases they can be treated using over the counter medication and advice online and from your local pharmacy.  In fact, the advice and direction given by a doctor regarding a minor illness is unlikely to be different to information you can receive from the other source. 

Why mention this?  Well, the difficulty is that if 1/5th of all our appointments are taken up with minor illnesses that can be self-managed and will usually resolve themselves within a given time frame, this means that we have less appointments for other reasons.  Many appointment systems struggle with demand because whilst access has improved over the years, this has been largely offset with the increase in demand for minor illnesses.

Of course, we will never refuse a request for an appointment from anyone who is registered with us.  But ask yourself a question - if you needed to see a doctor for something other than a minor illness, perhaps an emerging medical condition, would you feel frustrated if your appointment options were limited because of unnecessary demand?  You could ask yourself another question - would you pay £25 for an appointment with a doctor if in all likeliness the advice you would receive would be to drink plenty of fluids and take paracetamol?

Common sense has to prevail if we are to make the most of the limited resources we have.  Minor illnesses can be upsetting and worrying, but if you learn as much as you can about minor illnesses by using the resources available e.g. through , and your local pharmacist, you will gain in confidence.  More importantly, you will take control of your health and wellbeing.

And for your added assurance, we will still always be here for you should your minor illness persists or if you have any additional concerns. 

Step two: long term conditions - take responsibility and learn as much as you can.

Long term conditions are illnesses and diseases that are likely to remain for some length of time, normally for the rest of your life.  These include asthma, chronic heart disease, heart failure, COPD, diabetes.  In fact, there are many different types of long term conditions, and each one has a significant impact on your health.

In order for you to live longer and live healthier, there are a number of essentials that you must follow:

  1. Always follow the advice of your doctor or nurse.  This includes taking your medication.  Remember, simply because you feel well, does not mean that your long term condition no longer exists or has an impact.
  2. Learn as much as you possibly can about your long term condition.  We have created a special page on this site for you to do just that.  Learning about your condition and following the advice given will have a positive impact on your health. A fact!
  3. Lose the ‘habits’, eat healthily and exercise appropriately.  Habits include smoking and excessive drinking.  You may not notice the negative impact habits have, but then people rarely realise they are getting sunburnt whilst lying out in the sun until it is too late.  Equally, people often do not experience immediate health benefits once they have taken action to cut out a habit.  But as well as preventing further deterioration, you will experience health benefits over time.  You just need to give it time!

Step three:  prevention is always better than cure.

You may not have a minor illness or a long term condition currently, but remember, they start for a reason! 

That reason is likely linked to your diet, exercise, and bad habits such as smoking and excessive alcohol drinking.  It is more important than you realise, that you eat a balanced diet and get regular exercise.  There are many resources available on the internet. 

Remember the golden rule – prevention is better than cure, and a cure may not always be possible so take responsibility for your own health and wellbeing and you will add years to your life, and life to your years!

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