Toxic caterpillars which can cause skin rashes, conjunctivitis, sore throats and breathing problems are to be exterminated in a series of council spraying operations starting next week.

The discovery of Oak Processionary Moths in Bexley was first made last summer after the poisonous pests had invaded a number of public spaces and other open spaces.

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While the adult moths are harmless, the hairs of their caterpillars contain a strong irritant.

Contact with these hairs can cause severe irritation, with skin rashes and, less commonly, sore throats, breathing difficulties and eye problems.

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Thaumetopoea processionea

Both people and animals can be affected by touching the caterpillars, their nests, or if windblown hairs make contact with the skin.

The greatest risk period is between May and July, but the hairs from the caterpillar can be present on old nests and could be blown or touched at any time of year.

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The first round of insecticide treatment is due to start towards the end of April while the next phase will take place two weeks after the first phase finishes.

The council have urged residents who have come into contact with these hairs or with the caterpillars to consult a pharmacist, GP, NHS Direct or Vet respectively.