It’s probably the “nice, wet winter,” Nita Cummings said, that has poison ivy everywhere this year.
Cummings, a licensed practical nurse at The Family Physicians in Iola said the office has seen a number of patients with the nasty itch this year.
“You can get it from the air or through contact,” Cummings said.
Including contact with animals, said Wendy Froggatte, a nurse with the Southeast Kansas Multi County Health Department.
Poison ivy is a vine that can creep, climb and act as a shrub. The oils of the plant that cause the allergic reaction can linger on clothes up to a year, she said, or be spread when tossed into a load of wash.
The Web site poisonivy.org warns that one should bathe in cool water after exposure, because warm water can open pores and allow the plant’s oils to more readily absorb into skin, worsening its effect.
Cummings agreed. “A hot shower will make you miserable.”
Reaction to the plant can be almost immediate for those who are very sensitive. Others may not notice a rash for a day or so.
Rashes range in seriousness from mere speckles to a crusty, scaly red mass or oozing blisters.
Cummings said that oral or injected prednisone, a steroid, is often the only relief for people with severe itching.
A series of vaccinations to prevent a reaction are also available, she said, but “it is expensive. Check with your insurance first,” before scheduling the shots. Three doses are needed, one per week, every year.
Cummings suggested using “anything topically to cool down the itch,” once infected, including calamine, which contains bentonite, a highly absorbent clay that helps dry the rash’s oozing. Anti-itch medicines such as hydrocortisone cream can help, while some people find relief through oral antihistamines, Cummings said.
The rash typically lasts from one to three weeks. Scratching can spread the rash if urushiol, the plant’s active oil, is caught under one’s fingernails and carried to previously unexposed skin, she said.
“If you take prednisone and use topical products to reduce the itch, you should notice a lessening in two to six days,” Cummings said.
POISON IVY is fairly easy to identify. The plant has three leaves in a cluster on a single stem. Leaves can be toothed, lobed or smooth and are typically glossy when new. The top leaf is usually larger than the other two.
Stems can appear reddish, and the whole plant reddens in fall.
Climbing poison ivy forms numerous aerial roots that give the vine a tell-tale fuzzy appearance.
Poison oak is also found in the area and causes a similar reaction to poison ivy. Poison oak is a shrub that also has three leaves looking like tiny oak leaves.
Some people confuse poison ivy with Virginia creeper, a vine that has five leaves in a palm-shaped arrangement.
ERADICATING poison ivy is difficult. All parts of the plant are poisonous and its roots grow deep. Weed-whacking or mowing the vine can release the irritant into the air. Burning will create a toxic smoke that can cause dangerous internal lung irritation or overall skin inflammation.
Oftentimes, herbicides are the only practical approach. According to the KSU Extension Web site, herbicides including glyphosate (Roundup, Poison Ivy and Vine Killer) or triclopyr (Brush-B-Gon Poison Ivy Killer) can be used. Repeat applications may be necessary.
In rural areas, goats have been used to control the weed — they can eat it with no ill effect.Cummings also noted ticks are heavy this year. Both wood ticks and tiny deer ticks are in the region. Always check for ticks after working outdoors or walking through wooded areas, she said. Be cautious when removing the arachnids so as not to leave mouth parts in the skin. Check for any redness or rash at the attachment site and see your doctor if any irritation arises, she said.