Outsmarting Poison Ivy,
Oak, and Sumac
With summer comes an itch to be
outdoors. Poison ivy, oak or sumac can add another itch. About 85
percent of the population will develop an allergic reaction if exposed
to these common outdoor plants.
Exposure occurs after contact
with the plantsí colorless or yellowish oil, urushiol, released when
the plant stems or leaves are cut, bruised or crushed. An allergic
reaction first appears as a line or streak of rash, usually within 12 to
48 hours. Redness and swelling occur, often followed by blisters and
severe itching. The blisters may become crusted and begin to scale. The
rash takes 10 days or longer to heal. The rash cannot be spread to other
parts of the body by scratching, or to another person by touching the
blisters or the fluid. But the rash can become infected, if scratched
If exposed, wash the affected
area with cold water and soap immediately. Wash exposed clothing,
camping and sporting gear. Applying an antihistamine or steroid cream or
taking an oral antihistamine may relieve the itching. If the rash
becomes severe, seek medical advice.
Never burn poison ivy, oak, or
sumac because the urushiol oil particles can become airborne. Invisible
and sticky, urushiol can be carried on garden tools, petís fur and
clothing. It can stay active on any surface, including dead plants, for
up to 5 years.
If one or more of these plants
is growing in your yard, wear gloves to pull it up by the roots. When
walking through wooded areas, wear long pants and long sleeves.
For more information, call the
Genesee County Health Department, (810) 257-3612.