Anyone who spends significant time outdoors should be concerned about spreading Poison Ivy to those around them if they develop a rash from contact with the plant. What follows are a few important facts to know about the risk of transmitting Poison Ivy to other people.
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Is Poison Ivy Contagious?
No. The rash that results from contact with the Poison Ivy plant is not contagious at all. Individuals are generally only affected if they come into direct contact with the plant. However, there are several instances where Poison Ivy can spread from person to person without having direct contact. For instance, a child who unknowingly brings the bark or leaves of a Poison Ivy plant around other children can become contagious after handling the plant.
The leaves, stems and roots of the Poison Ivy (as well as poison oak and poison sumac) plant produce a sticky substance, or resin called “urushiol”, which in many individuals stimulates an allergic reaction known as plant dermatitis. The oils from the plant provoke a response from the immune system of an allergic individual that causes severe inflammation in the affected area of skin.
Urushiol clings to any surface it comes into contact with such as pet fur, human hair and skin, clothing, equipment and tools. If someone touches the plant and then has skin-to-skin contact with another individual, that person may develop symptoms of contact dermatitis, and eventually, a red itchy rash. Likewise, if someone comes into contact with an object, such as an article of clothing or gloves that contain oils from the plant, they are at risk for developing a reaction.
Can scratching Cause the Spread of Poison Ivy?
Scratching blistered skin does not cause Poison Ivy to spread. The only thing that can trigger a reaction in allergic individuals is the oil from the plant. A rash may seem to spread due to the progression of blisters appearing on affected skin. However, this happens because of subsequent contact with hands, clothing and other objects contaminated with urushiol.
As long as every contaminated surface is washed thoroughly with soap and water, there is no further risk of the rash spreading, even in the presence of skin with broken blisters.
How Long does it take Poison Ivy to take Effect?
Rashes resulting from Poison Ivy typically develop within 2 to 3 days after initial contact. However, in some individuals it make takes as many as 10 days to 3 weeks for blisters to appear. The difference lies in an individual’s allergic predisposition to the toxins in the plant and their history of exposure. The skin of individuals with previous allergies to Poison Ivy reacts much faster than those facing exposure for the first time.
What Causes a Poison Ivy reaction to Develop?
There are three specific ways in which a reaction to Poison Ivy develops:
- Direct contact – Touching parts of the plant such as the berries, stems, roots or leaves dramatically increases the chances of developing an allergic reaction and rash. However, if the resin only makes brief contact with skin, the resulting reaction is typically mild.
- Making contact with contaminated objects – Handling an object that is contaminated by Poison Ivy puts someone at risk for developing a reaction if the oily substance it contains transfers to their skin. This holds true even if several years have passed since the object was initially exposed to urushiol.
- Smoke inhalation from burning plants – Delicate nasal passages and lungs are quickly irritated and damaged by inhaling smoke that contains the urushiol produced by Poison Ivy plants.
Safeguard against developing a reaction to Poison Ivy by learning how to identify the plant and avoiding contact with it whenever possible. Prevent an allergic response to urushiol by washing exposed skin and clothing thoroughly and immediately after suspected contact, and wear protective clothing when spending time outside the home.
The bumps, rashes and blisters caused by exposure to poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac can be very itchy and uncomfortable, especially for children. Although it may take few weeks, the rash gradually dissipates and then goes away completely. In order to calm the inflamed skin and reduce symptoms quickly prescription pill/creams like oral or topical steroids can be used as per doctor’s advice.