Different target groups
Many people have to deal with the problem in the course of their work. As part of the control programme, local authority employees (parks department), contractors and firefighters are exposed to the caterpillar's stinging hairs. Another risk group is made up of the maintenance departments for roads, roadside trees (oaks) and verges.
A second group is the general public who use roads/avenues along which oak trees are planted or who live in places where there are many oak trees. This group also includes cyclists, sports people, children playing and visitors.
A major group is made up of youth organisations, which play and camp in fields and woods.
There is also a risk to cattle grazing in the immediate vicinity of infested trees or fed hay contaminated with stinging hairs. Dogs off the lead which playfully bite large cocoon nests can also be at risk.
How to avoid irritation
If you are involved in controlling the problem professionally, it is important to wear the appropriate protective clothing. Rubber gloves, boots, a protective suit well-sealed at the forearm and ankle and a full face mask.
Even if you do not control oak processionary caterpillars professionally, it is essential to use proper protection. A well-sealed protective suit, a dust mask and goggles, gloves and boots are essential to prevent irritation.
Members of the public are advised to avoid direct contact with caterpillars, stinging hairs (including old ones), cocoon nests and shed skins as much as possible. Children must be alerted to the danger of the oak processionary caterpillar. When visiting a (natural) area with caterpillars, it is advisable to cover your neck, arms and legs and to avoid sitting on the ground. After coming into contact with the caterpillars or hairs you should not scratch or rub but wash or rinse your skin and hair thoroughly as soon as possible.
The local authority leaflet is an ideal means of informing residents. The Flemish Health Inspectorate has produced a leaflet (see under biological factors) about the oak processionary caterpillar.
The Provincial Institute for Hygiene (PIH) also produces free leaflets.