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• Poison ivy causes an allergic reaction because the sap contains an oily substance called urushiol. Other plants that also contain urushiol include poison oak and poison sumac.
• The word “urushiol” comes from the Japanese word “urushi” meaning lacquer because the toxic sap can be refined to make a very durable and beautiful lacquer.
• You’d think that poison ivy contains urushiol as a defensive measure, but in fact the substance merely helps the plant retain water and it just so happens that it’s also an allergen.
• You cannot get a rash from simply brushing against poison ivy; you must come into contact with the sap of the plant caused when leaves and stems are damaged, due to cutting the plant, picking the leaves, crushing the stems, and so forth.
• Urushiol enters the skin so quickly that a person has only ten minutes after exposure to wash it off in order to prevent a rash from forming. The rash usually shows up within 48 hours of exposure.
• It takes just a billionth of a gram of urushiol to cause a rash. A mere quarter ounce of the stuff would be enough to cause a rash on every person on Earth. And the amount that could fit on the head of a pin would be enough to cause a rash on 500 people.
• About 85% of people are allergic to urushiol. Exposure to urushiol causes more cases of dermatitis than is caused by all other plant species combined.
• Often people will fail to develop a rash after their first exposure to poison ivy, through the rash tends to grow progressively worse with each successive exposure.
• It’s found throughout North America and Asia though it does not grow well in arid regions or high altitudes.
• Although poison ivy usually has three leaves, its appearance can vary widely. Eastern poison ivy is a rope-like vine while western poison ivy is a shrubby bush. The vine can cover the ground or it can climb tree trunks and fences. The foliage changes appearance as the seasons change, starting reddish in the spring, green in the summer, yellow and orange in fall.
• Despite its name, poison ivy is not a true ivy. True ivy is in the genus called “Hedera.” Poison ivy is in the genus “Toxicodendron” which is Latin meaning “toxic tree.”
• You don’t need to come into direct contact with poison ivy to develop a rash. The oil can be carried on garden tools, pet fur, clothing, tires, lawnmowers, weed whackers, and so forth. When poison ivy is burned, the smoke can cause considerable damage to the lungs if inhaled.
• About 350,000 people will suffer from poison ivy rashes in the U.S. each year.
• The oil can remain active for up to five years. Even dead leaves still carry the oil.
• The rash cannot spread from one part of the body to the other through the blisters, or from person-to-person contact.
• To protect yourself from contact, always wear long sleeves, pants, boots, and gloves. Vinyl gloves are better than rubber gloves because the oil can penetrate rubber. Wash all items exposed to poison ivy with soap and water, and it’s best to wash your skin with soap and water using a wash cloth for added friction which is more effective at removing the oil.
• Goats can eat poison ivy with no ill effects. Some farmers rent out goats to clear parks, golf courses and historical sites of poison ivy and other weeds without using chemicals and herbicides. Deer and bear also eat poison ivy.
• Birds eat the nutritious berries of the plant with no ill effect, thereby spreading the seeds to new territory.