European caterpillar causes asthma in Britain

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Toxic caterpillars, which can trigger an asthma attack or anaphylaxis, are invading Britain, experts warn.

The oak processionary caterpillar causes respiratory problems because of its 60,000 barbed hairs, which contain a harmful toxin. As well as causing severe breathing difficulties and lethal asthma attacks, contact with these hairs can also result in painful rashes and eye/ear irritation.

The caterpillars arrived in Britain in 2006, on a shipment of oak trees from the Netherlands, quickly becoming established in the South East. Experts believe that, within 5 years, these caterpillers will affect everyone within the M25.

With a preference for isolated trees, these insects pose a particular human risk, as they are more commonly found on trees in towns, cities and parks where they could easily come into contact with people.

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