UNITED NEWS INTERNATIONAL – A health warning is in place in the southeast of England following an outbreak of toxic caterpillars.

The insect, formally known as the caterpillar of the oak processionary moth, can cause asthma attacks, vomiting and skin rashes.

The biggest infestation was spotted in London and the city’s surrounding areas.

The Forestry Commission has warned people not to touch the insect, as it has about 62,000 toxic hairs, which can cause irritation. The insect also sheds its hair and the toxins can be active for up to five years.

One gardener told the BBC, she suffered “severe symptoms” after coming into contact with the species while tending to an oak tree.

Experts say large infestations of the insect can also affect the health of trees; as the insect feeds on the tree’s leaves and weakens it.

A treatment program will continue in the infested areas throughout May.