Health warnings have been issued in London following an outbreak of toxic caterpillars. Hairs on the Oak processionary moth caterpillars, or OPM caterpillars, can cause fevers as well as eye and throat irritation. They can be deadly for those with asthma. According to the Telegraph:
Serious allergic reactions can be caused by protein in the creatures’ hair follicles, which remain active on the ground for up to five years after being shed…Each OPM caterpillar has about 62,000 hairs which can be ejected…The hairs also remain in the oak tree nests, which start out white but become gradually discoloured and harder to see.
The species is believed to have to have arrived in Britain accidentally in 2005 via Dutch trees imported for a landscaping project at a housing development in Kew, South West London.
Health officials warn that people should not “touch or approach nests or caterpillars” or let children or animals near them.
Several years ago my mom sent me four giant boxes of N95 respirator masks. This was during the “swine flu” pandemic in 2009. I never wore them (but don’t tell her). Frankly, I thought I would look silly and believed any benefit was minor. Finally, after sitting in the far corner of a cabinet for years, there is a better use for them. Health officials are advising N95 respirator masks be worn in areas affected by the horrific fire outbreak this week.
Hospitals in Southern California have reported an uptick in patients with breathing problems, and are advising that people limit time spent outside, keep windows closed, and use air conditioners inside.
Santa Rosa, where devastating fires broke out in October, had the same air quality issues and recommendations:
The blazes create smoke waves — pulses of pollution containing everything from charred plastic residue to soot to other small particles that lodge deep in the lungs. They can trigger short-term ailments, such as coughing; worsen chronic diseases, such as asthma; and lead to long-term damage, including cancer.
The effect of the fires in Northern California’s wine country, which destroyed thousands of homes and killed 43 people, went well beyond the burn zone. The smoke choked the San Francisco Bay Area, home to 7 million people in nine counties, for days…
Even for healthy people, it can make breathing a miserable, chest-heaving experience. For the elderly, the young and the frail, the pollution can be disabling or deadly.
Health officials have advised that people in fire areas take precaution, even when smoke and ash can’t be seen or smelled.
Underlying conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or tuberculosis appear to put swine flu victims at greater risk of hospitalization or death, doctors from the WHO and the CDC said.
Some of the serious cases involve healthy young people, and the reasons for that are still unexplained. Many of the patients went into rapid decline and died of viral pneumonia, not bacterial pneumonia, said Dr. Sylvie Briand, a W.H.O. flu expert. Viral pneumonia may be a result of the “cytokine storm,” in which the body’s own immune reaction to a new virus floods the lungs with fluid. It can progress faster and be harder to treat than bacterial pneumonia.
The cytokine storm was thought to be one of the factors that contributed to the deadliness of the 1918 pandemic. A cytokine storm describes an immune system that has over-reacted and is damaging the body, causing failure of multiple organ systems. This would explain why an unusually large number of young people died during the 1918 flu; they had the healthiest immune systems.
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