Is Poison Ivy Contagious?
Is poison ivy contagious? Yes and no. It depends. I'll explain.
Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac are plants that contain a sticky resin-like sap, or oil, called urushiol. Every part of the plant has this oil present in it. You don't want to touch the leaves, the vine, the roots, or anything that has come into contact with any of these. You don't even want to breathe the smoke from any part of this plant that is being burned.
The sap or oil of poison ivy can remain active for up to five years, even on a dead plant. When human skin comes into contact with this oil it causes an allergic reaction. It usually doesn't happen right away, it's often between 5-48 hours, and after you've already touched a million things and various parts of your body. You'll soon find out where all you have touched. It can even be as long as 15 days after you've first come into contact.
Once you have broken out in the rash you're not contagious unless you still have sap on your skin or clothes. Many people assume that they are continuing to spread it when it's either different parts reacting slower because there was less exposure to the sap or they have come into contact with the sap again from something that has it on it. Remember, you probably don't remember all of the places you touched while you had sap on your hands or clothes.
The rash indicates your skin has absorbed the oil. Even though you may begin to see water-filled bumps, these are not contagious. This liquid that is oozing from the rash is not the sap. This crusty oozy phase is probably the most miserable for me. As this point you're red, itchy, puffy, and often in pain. Depending on where you have it, it can be incredibly uncomfortable to eat, sleep, or sit.
A Saying to Help You Avoid Poison Ivy
"Leaves of three, leave it be."
Poison Ivy Fast Facts
- Up to 90% of people are allergic to poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. Just because you've never had it so far, doesn't mean you won't some day. Many people goes many years without a reaction and then suddenly have a reaction.
- Poison ivy and poison oak leaves are made up of three-pointed leaflets. The one in the middle has a longer stem than the two on the sides. The leaflet edges can be smooth or jagged. The leaves vary greatly in size and length. In the spring, the leaves are reddish and turn green in the summer and various shades of red, orange, and yellow in the fall. Poison sumac can have clusters of 7-13 leaves.
- Only a quarter of an ounce of poison ivy sap, or urushiol, is needed to cause an allergic reaction on every person on the planet. It doesn't take much, does it? Up to 500 people could have an allergic reaction to the amount of sap that would fit on the head of a pin.
- According to Wikipedia, it's not really found in Europe.
- Depending on what site you go to, it is estimated that between 350,000 and 50 million cases of poison ivy are reported each year.
- Often people who are sensitive to poison ivy end up with a similar rash from mangoes. Mangoes are in the same family as poison ivy have a similar chemical compound.
- A related allergenic compound is present in the raw shells of cashews. Have you ever thought about that? Have you have seen an unshelled cashew? Now you know why.
What to Do If You Have Come Into Contact With Poison Ivy (or Think You Might Have)
If you think you may have come into contact with poison ivy, clean the areas with rubbing alcohol or a commercial poison ivy wash, like Technu or Zanfel. Then wash with cool water. Some recommend not using soap or hot water because it could cause it to spread more. This really only helps if you catch it early. If it's been hours, you may be too late to prevent a reaction, but you can certainly minimize continued exposure by trying to eliminate the sap on anything that may have come in contact with it.
Depending on the severity of your rash and the location, you may be able to treat it with over the counter products. If you have it in particularly sensitive places like your eyes, nose, mouth, private areas, or large patches covering much of your body, then I highly advise seeking medical help. A quick injection of steroids will help you tremendously. I've had to do this myself and for my daughter.