Eight pupils aged eight to 10 from Migdal Ha’emek on Wednesday suffered a serious reaction to the pine processionary, a caterpillar that feeds on pine trees. The allergic reaction – including swelling, a rash, and burns on the neck and upper chest – had to be treated with steroids.
Doctors at Emek Medical Center in Afula warned that this is the season for the caterpillar, Thaumetopoea pityocampa, which turns into a moth.
The hairs of the caterpillar larvae may cause harmful reactions in humans and other mammals. The caterpillars spend the winter in tent-like nests high in pine trees, and in the spring, they march in processions – with nose-to-tail columns – protected by their severely irritating hairs.
The allergic reaction can go on for days or even a week or two. Anyone who sees such processions should stay away and not touch them.
Prof. Menahem Retem, head of the allergy and asthma clinic at Emek, said the hairs contain venom that is very irritating to the skin and eyes. When the hairs enter the respiratory system, they can cause cough, nausea, and even shortness of breath. Anyone who has pine trees on his property should check them in the spring and bring in an expert to spray them if they are infected.
If there is any contact between humans and the hairs, remove them as fast as possible and go to a hospital emergency room for treatment with antihistamines, sometimes combined with steroids.