Poison Ivy Myths and Facts

There are a lot of myths floating around the internet about poison ivy. Here are some common ones along with the facts.

MYTH: Poison ivy is contagious.

FACT : Poison ivy can only be "caught" by coming in contact with the oil (see How You 'Catch' Poison Ivy".) However, if your friend still has the urushiol oil on their hands and they touch you, then you can get the poison ivy rash because the oil is now on you. It's not the act of touching their rash that gives you poison ivy, it's the act of touching the oil that's still on their skin (or clothing, toys, etc.)


MYTH: You can't get poison ivy from a dead plant or vine.

FACT : Urushiol can stay active for years on surfaces. There have been reports of people contracting the rash from vines that have been dead for over 100 years. Do not trust that the camping gear that came in contact with poison ivy 10 years ago is ok. Be sure and clean it up.

Most popular myth: you can get poison ivy just by standing by the plant. That's not even a remote possibility. The oil may be unbelievably powerful, but it's not magical.


MYTH : You can get a poison ivy rash by being around the plant.

FACT : You must come in direct contact urushiol oil in order to get a rash. However, you can get the rash if the oil is airborne from burning the plant or if a weed whacker is spraying it around, but even in those cases, that is a method of direct contact with the oil.


MYTH : If you scratch poison ivy blisters, your rash will spread.

FACT : The rash is caused by the urushiol oil found in and on poison ivy (or oak and sumac). The fluid in the blisters is your body's reaction to the toxin. That fluid does not contain the oil. However, if you have any urushiol oil remaining on your hands or any other body part that has not had the oil removed, then you can spread the rash that way. Just make sure your hands and nails are very clean and that you make certain you've washed the oil off any part of your body you suspect it got on. Be careful about scratching too much since that could cause an infection or scarring.


MYTH : If you're not allergic now, you never will be.

FACT : Immunity to any number of things can change over a person's lifetime, and immunity to an allergic reaction to urushiol oil falls in that category. There's been some research that indicates that the more a person is exposed to the oil, the more sensitive they become. There are also some people who were once allergic and no longer are.


MYTH : "Leaves of three, let them be."

FACT : TRUE for poison ivy, FALSE for poison oak and poison sumac. Although poison ivy always has 3 leaves (leaflets) poison oak has 3 to 5 leaves and poison sumac has 7 to 13 leaves per branch. It's also fair to state that not every plant that has 3 leaves is poison ivy.


MYTH : Clothing will protect you against catching poison ivy.

FACT : While it decreases direct skin exposure, your clothing will still get the urushiol oil on it which can later be spread by touching your contaminated clothing. Urushiol oil will stick to clothes, shoes, camera tripod legs, toys, garden tools, or anything else it touches, then you'll wind up with the rash after touching those items. And remember, water and oil don't mix, so just using water alone to try to remove the oil isn't going to do a whole lot of good - soap or some other oil-removing product needs to come into play.


MYTH : You must touch poison ivy to get a rash.

FACT : It's absolutely true that you must come in contact with the urushiol oil in some fashion to get the rash, but this does not mean you have to touch the plant. You can touch something that came in contact with it (a pet, ball that rolled into it, shoes that walked in it, etc.) or breathe it while it's airborne. If you believe an item has come in contact with ivy, wash it with soap and water to prevent the rash later. Since the oil can remain active on surfaces for years or even decades, removal is important. Dishwashing liquid like Dawn works well. If you think you inhaled the oil, get medical help.


MYTH : Eating a young green poison ivy leaf early in spring will help your immunity to poison ivy.

FACT : Unless you're nuts, don't even think about trying this. I'm have no idea whatsoever how this idea got started, but it's on the top of my b.s. list and it's a really bad idea. I support homeopathic remedies and natural medicine one hundred percent, but this is just flat out insane. Don't do it unless you really want to spend a couple weeks in a hospital. Trust me, there are better ways to miss work.

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