Sunday, August 2, 2009

Poison Ivy Comes In Many Forms

By Keith Markensen

Poison Ivy! Just the mention of the name brings painful memories to millions of people who have had encounters with this vicious pest. It is the source of perhaps more serious discomfort and suffering than any other one plant with the possible exception of ragweed, which causes hay fever. All parts of the poison ivy plant, stems, roots, berries, leaves, are poisonous throughout the entire year.

Poison ivy shows many forms. Some plants may be six to 15 inches high, bushy or shrubby, others three to six feet high, climbing in a shrubby way upon fence posts. Still others assume a vine-like growth and climb to 30 or 40 feet. Plant growth and leaves show great diversity, too, but the end results of contact are always the same painful irritation to the skin of susceptible people.

A few examples of injury brought to my attention in the last year or so will show the viciousness of poison ivy. A young neighbor boy accompanied by his father went on a fishing trip and unknowingly contacted the plant on the bank of a stream. Infection followed, and then came a secondary infection of the lymph glands. The boy spent a painful week in the hospital and recovered only after a great deal of suffering, misery and expense.

Another family, upon returning from a picnic near a lake, developed dermatitis and a check proved the fireplace they had used was located right in a small, inconspicuous poison ivy patch. A dentist with a full schedule of appointments one week end pruned his privet hedge which unknown to him contained half a dozen plants of poison ivy. A few days later he had severe irritation on his hands and arms. Appointments had to be canceled for four weeks. On two separate occasions a young girl left for a summer camp, only to return each time after, two to three days with poison ivy, contracted of all places, along the much used paths of the camp.

A young couple, after buying a home in a new addition, set out some evergreens early in the spring, before thins began to grow. After the work of digging the holes and packing the dirt around the new evergreens, each of them got a bad case of ivy poisoning. They had unknowingly planted the evergreens right through a small dormant poison ivy patch. Hundreds of people are affected every year because they clean up infected premises and destroy the trash. The heat generated by fire volatilizes the poison, which in turn is carried on the soot particles in the smoke and deposited on the skin in concentrated form. And don't pet animals such as dogs or cats, which may roam through patches of ivy. You can transfer the poison to your own skin.

Preventive medicines help, before exposure. Immediate showering after exposure with strong laundry soap and lukewarm water also helps. But the best preventative is to know the plant and stay away from it. "Leaflets three, let it be" is a good axiom.

Now for the remedy. Before going on outdoor trips, be positive you know what poison ivy looks like. Avoid it completely if you can. Poison ivy is a "natural" in timbered areas. Stay on regular paths when in parks. That isn't always 100 percent protection either, since some public parks and camps permit poison ivy even along well traveled paths. Caretakers of such areas should never condone the existence of poison ivy and make no attempt to do anything about it.

Remember, when any eradication measures are to be undertaken, that only persons known to be relatively non-susceptible to the poison of the plant should be asked to do the work. Work slowly on a cool day so that you do not perspire. You are more likely to become infected when skin pores are open. Be sure all equipment and clothes worn during the work are thoroughly washed in warm soapy water. Use strong laundry soap. Do not use detergents. The alkali in the laundry soap neutralizes the poisonous principle of the ivy. Wash several times under a warm (not hot) shower using plenty of strong laundry soap. If poison ivy has a poison it is the reverse of the African violet. It may be called african violet virus but the truth is African violets are hosts of viruses that is why it needs so much care.

Do not use oily soaps, for they spread the poison. If minor infections develop, repeated washing in epsom salt or strong baking soda (two teaspoonsful to a cup of water) solution will help. There are also prepared remedies on the market.

Remember that most cases of poison ivy irritation, regardless of how small, belong in the hands of a physician who can usually forestall the much more serious secondary infections which often follow. Those who must work in areas that contain ivy, should see their physicians about preventive or ameliorating "shots" to make them less susceptible to poisoning.

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