Poison Oak and Ivy by June Morgan
It happens every spring. An enthusiastic gardener bent on cleaning out weeds and vines overtaking the shrubbery and fences ends up with a noxious itching and blistering rash which makes him miserable for days, even weeks. The likely culprit is one or both of the plant pests, poison ivy and poison oak which deliver the stick-to-the-skin resin urushiol.
The best defenses are identification and prevention. The appearances of poison oak and ivy have several things in common, one being the tell-tale three leaves on a woody stalk. However, leaves of the oak vine occasionally have 5, 7, or even 9 leaflets. They strongly resemble oak leaves with toothed or deeply lobed edges. In the fall, they will turn red/orange and in the Spring white-green flowers appear which turn to round fruits in summer. The fruits of the ivy vine are grapelike clusters of tiny white seeds with an off-white or pale yellow rind and the leaf edges are smooth or slightly toothed. Needless to say, birds eat these fruits and seeds, compounding the problem of control. Leaves of the same variety often present differing appearances according to their geographical area, so it is wise to find pictures of the poison vines and their non-poisonous relatives.
A hiker roaming through the woods can easily find himself walking through a knee deep patch of these pests as well as brushing against a large tree hosting an ivy vine as thick as one’s arm. Hand removal of the vines must be done very carefully with lots of skin protection and deep digging. In addition to plastic gloves and cloth coverings, a protective cream(Ivy Block) and a skin oil remover (Tecnu) is available at many drug stores. Once exposure is known, within 5 minutes pour a mild solvent such as rubbing alcohol over the area, then wash with plenty of cold water. Dogs, shoes, and tools must also be decontaminated to keep from spreading the oil. Both the stumps and leaves can be sprayed with one or a combination of several chemicals: glysophate (Roundup, etc.), triclopyr(Spectracide], or 2-4-D and dicamba. Read the directions carefully in order to apply at the correct times and amounts.
The dermatitis caused by the oleoresins of the vines can be quite serious. The misery can cause loss of work, sleeplessness and in some cases, hospitalization. Besides an anaphalactic shock reaction, extreme pain and possible fatality can occur when inhaling the smoke of burning vines. DO NOT EVER BURN THE POISON VINES!
Old and standard treatments for uroshiol dermatitis usually consist of calamine lotion and oatmeal baths, but the victim often wants something stronger. Steroids by injection or cream or a jewelweed preparation will probably give faster relief. The fluid from the blisters will not cause a spread of the rash, but any remaining resin on the skin or involved objects can do so.
REMINDER: Identify, protect, remove, and never burn!