Gypsy moth caterpillar infestations leaving people with rashes

Gypsy moth caterpillar infestations are causing many people to have an allergic reaction and leaving them with rashes.

Louise McGinn's yard has been taken over by the invasive species.

"We have them all over our yard," she said. "We have a four-acre property and I would say at least 50 per cent of the trees are completely infested with them."

McGinn said an allergic reaction has left her feeling sick, with itchy skin, for several days.

"They were little pustules and they had a little puss inside them," she said.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada said southern Ontario has had a bad infestation year for gypsy moth caterpillars.

"The populations actually go in these cycles," Kristy Ferguson said. "Every 10 to 12 years, you have this big population spike and we're in the middle of one."

People can remove them by wrapping burlap around the base of trees and flicking them into a bucket of soapy water. But, Ferguson said not to touch the caterpillars.

A local family doctor said the rash can be treated at home.

"Hydrocortisone cream can be really helpful to take down some of the itchiness," Dr. Sharon Bal said. "Some people really do have some discomfort and may need some Advil or Tylenol."

The caterpillars will soon become moths and fly away.

"Predators will come eat them," Ferguson said. "There's a virus that will knock out the population of caterpillars and a fungus that will work on the moths, and we will see those numbers go down." She said next spring likely won't see as many caterpillars in the area.