|MadSci Network: Medicine|
Dear April: I am sorry that you have poison ivy. Although you do not need to come in contact with the plant itself to get the poison ivy reaction, you do need to come in contact with the oil of the poison ivy plant, known as urushiol. Urushiol can be transmitted by direct contact with the plant, but it can also be transmitted through a pet or through burning. A pet can carry the oil on its fur, and when you pet the animal you can transfer the oil from the animal's fur to your hands and/or body. Burning poison ivy releases the oil into the air, and if you stand downwind of burning poison ivy, you can get a nasty case of poison ivy on exposed skin. Likewise, if urushiol is on gloves or clothing or another surface, it can be transmitted to the skin by touching the "contaminated" object. Poison ivy's appearance can be quite variable. In some cases, it grows as a tree-climbing vine, in other cases it assumes a bush form, and in yet other cases it grows as a groundcover. All of these forms of poison ivy contain urushiol, and all can cause "poison ivy," or contact dermatitis, when they come in contact with the skin. Unfortunately, poison ivy grows well in areas with disturbed soil. This includes: roadsides, paths through the woods, beach areas, your back yard, basically anywhere that soil has been disturbed. As a matter of fact, I was weeding my flower beds recently and I realized (too late!) that poison ivy was growing there. As well as poison ivy, there are other plants that can cause contact dermatitis in different individuals, so the reaction that you are seeing may not be a reaction to poison ivy at all, but instead a reaction to another plant. Only a dermatologist could tell you for sure. Good luck avoiding poison ivy in the future, and if you have any more questions, don't hesitate to contact me! Take care- Ingrid Dodge firstname.lastname@example.org
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