Albert Francis E. Domingo, MD

my flight of ideas

Caterpillar Envenomation: Higad Attack

Posted on | August 11, 2010 | 56 Comments

Studying in the wide-open and heavily planted campus of the University of the Philippines in Diliman during the month of August has with it increased chances of getting intimate with hairy caterpillars also known in Filipino as higad.

These little creatures, while part of the life cycle that ends in a butterfly (or moth, depending on the species) have this habit of dropping onto your exposed skin when you least expect it. And because their fine silky hairs (setae) are like thin-gauged needles dipped in acid, they cause rather painful and/or itchy (not to mention somewhat disfiguring) lesions on the areas of contact.

Without going too much into the pathophysiology of how erucism or caterpillar dermatitis comes to be (the medical professionals among you already have several key words to search for to find the appropriate literature), the most common manifestation of caterpillar envenomation is that of a “localized, pruritic, maculopapular contact dermatitis and urticaria,” following “contact with toxic hairs, spines, or hemolymph [of the caterpillar], either directly or following aerosolization.” (Hooray for!) In plain English, you’ll find a somewhat raised patch of skin that’s really itchy/painful and sometimes red or pinkish in color.

Popular Remedies

Similar to the cure for a bad hangover, caterpillar envenomation seems to be a shared experience that transcends generations – hence the multitude of popular remedies (some effective, others outrageous) “prescribed” by your friendly neighborhood… neighbor. There’s the application of vinegar – that has some scientific basis in that acidic vinegar does dissolve the alkaline caterpillar hairs (but not the parts already in your skin); there’s the application of urine – same principle as vinegar, urine being somewhat acidic; there’s rubbing the area with rock salt followed by virgin coconut oil; and then there’s pouring hot candle wax over the area (kinky!) then stripping it off once cool – to pull out the hairs.

Medical Approach: First Aid

Those having been said, the lesion from a higad attack is basically an inflammatory response of the body to the offending caterpillar hairs. What’s recommended is to do the following:

  1. Remove all jewelry/accessories from the area (if arms/legs). Gently wash the affected area with soap and water, then dry without coming into contact with the skin (e.g. use a hair dryer/fan).
  2. Apply alcohol or ammonia to cool the area and temporarily relieve symptoms;
  3. Apply sticky tape (duct tape, cellophane tape, etc) onto the area to pull off retained hairs. Alternative methods include the use of rubber cement, clear fingernail polish, or facial peeling solutions – all of which should be applied, allowed to dry, then peeled off.
  4. If the affected area is an arm or leg, splint, elevate, then apply ice/cold compress to reduce the swelling.

If the victim accidentally inhaled the caterpillar hairs, or has a history of allergies, immediately seek consult at the nearest health facility/with the nearest available physician. In case of caterpillar hairs finding their way into the victim’s eyes, flush the eyes with copious amounts of clean and cool water.

If Symptoms Persist…

…consult your doctor. Inform him/her of the above first aid you have given. S/he will then know what specific medications to give (such as antihistamines, painkillers, and sometimes steroids).

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56 Responses to “Caterpillar Envenomation: Higad Attack”

  1. Albert
    August 6th, 2013 @ 10:49 am

    Pakibasa po ang naisulat na sa “first aid”. Kung di pa rin po gumaling, pakikonsulta po sa inyong doktor.

  2. Albert
    August 6th, 2013 @ 10:50 am

    Hi Mhay. Yes, on average 3-5 days. Kung lumampas pa ng mga 7 days, pakikonsulta na po sa inyong doktor dahil baka iba na yan.

  3. Yanna
    October 10th, 2013 @ 7:34 am

    Thanks for this post!!

  4. Lito
    October 30th, 2013 @ 9:56 pm

    salamat po dock alam napo namin yung gagawin namin sa mga blogs po ninyo

  5. Erika
    April 15th, 2015 @ 7:14 pm

    First time ko tong na encounter na kagatin ng higad. It really sucks kasi gagraduate na ko and yung dress ko kita talaga yung leeg up to lower part of the chest e dun ako kinagat. Buti na lang I found this blog. Hope it helps me alot!

  6. Portia
    July 17th, 2016 @ 8:19 am

    Thank u po sa post dito
    Di mo talaga mapipigilan ung

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