Medical Misconception: Poison Ivy

Each month we set the facts straight regarding a popular health and wellness myth.

This month’s misconception: How poison ivy is spread

For many of us, summer finds us enjoying the outdoors more. Maybe you went hiking in the woods or did some yard work, and a few hours or days later, you have an itchy rash and blisters. It looks like you’ve had a brush with poison ivy.

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are all spread from contact with urushiol, the oil on the plant that causes the allergic reaction many experience.

But now that you have it, are you in danger of spreading it to other places on your body or to loved ones?

The answer is no – with some stipulations.

The only way to get poison ivy is to come in contact with the oil, whether it’s on the plant or on something that has the oil on it, such as garden tools, clothes or even animal fur that has been exposed to urushiol.

Broken blisters or scratching your rash will not spread the poison ivy to other spots on your body or to others.

To prevent getting poison ivy in the future, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends:

  • Washing your gardening tools and gloves regularly;
  • Wearing long sleeves, long pants tucked into boots and impermeable gloves if you think you are working around poison ivy;
  • Washing your pets if you think they have come in contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac, making sure you wear rubber gloves while doing so; and
  • Washing your affected area with soap and water as soon as possible when you know you’ve touched a poisonous plant to remove the plant oil from your body and helping to prevent it from spreading.


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