Is Poison Ivy Contagious?

Updated on June 18, 2018
KCC Big Country profile image

I am a native Texan residing in the Central Texas area where I grew up. I love to travel and explore.

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.

Poison Ivy
Poison Ivy | Source

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.

Poison Ivy Rash (also known as Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis)
Poison Ivy Rash (also known as Urushiol-induced contact dermatitis) | Source

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.

Questions & Answers

  • Should you be serving food while having poison ivy?

    Food handling is not recommended (and often prohibited) when someone has anything considered contagious, including poison ivy.

  • Can poison ivy affect the scalp?

    Yes it can.

Comments

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    • profile image

      Amy 

      10 months ago

      I had it horribly and the remedy is simple. Mix baking soda and vinegar into a paste place it on the poison ivy and nd wrap your arm of leg with plastic wrap. It will sting but it will immediately dry out the poison ivy

    • profile image

      E Girl 

      14 months ago

      I have it now and want to die... well not die but just cut off my fingers and arms. First time getting it and better be the last,I feel like tiny bugs are stepping in the same spot over and over again...ugggggh

    • quizbomb profile image

      quizbomb 

      5 years ago from Lancashire, United Kingdom

      What a great hub. Thanks for sharing your wisdom on an interesting subject. Just about everyone has heard of poison ivy but I'm sure that relatively few people know the intricate details about this less than welcoming plant. I'm certainly more well informed so it's a thumbs up from me (vote up)

    • moneycop profile image

      moneycop 

      7 years ago from JABALPUR

      its amazing to know that oil of poison ivy can remain active for 5 years. thanks!

    • Eiddwen profile image

      Eiddwen 

      7 years ago from Wales

      Thank you for this informative hub.

      I'm sure it will be useful to many.

      Take care

      Eiddwen.

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      It doesn't seem to effect me, at least so far. Have you researched the Native American remedy of eating leaves to reduce reaction? They start in the spring eating the baby leaves and it is supposed to build up an immunity.

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      7 years ago from Central Texas

      I had never heard of jewel weed until researching some info for this hub, so we haven't tried that yet. Works, huh? Don't think I'd want to go searching for Jewel weed amongst the poison ivy. Glad you enjoyed the song.

    • rpalulis profile image

      rpalulis 

      7 years ago from NY

      My favorite Poison Ivy antidote is Jewel Weed, usually will find it growing near poison Ivy.

      Love the Song!

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      7 years ago from Central Texas

      I hear ya, Granny's House! After researching it more, it has made me more cautious too.

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 

      7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      KCC, we go camping a lot. I will have to be more careful

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      7 years ago from Central Texas

      Thank you Wealthmadehealthy. She's just now getting better.

    • Wealthmadehealthy profile image

      Wealthmadehealthy 

      7 years ago from Somewhere in the Lone Star State

      I am so sorry for this. I do hope she is better now. I ended up digging it all up from around the house (naturally had a new pair of rubber gloves on which promptly hit the fire pit and got burned up afterward) I will be praying for her to get well....

    • KCC Big Country profile imageAUTHOR

      KRC 

      7 years ago from Central Texas

      Austinstar: Yikes, hospitalized? That is bad! I've had it in my eyes before and that was miserable. I've heard about the hairdryer method, but honestly, for me, heat is the last thing I want on it.

      Granny's House: You're a lucky one. You're one of the 10% I guess. But you still need to be careful because that could change.

      Frieda: Haven't seen you in a while. Thanks so much for stopping by. I've always liked the song "Poison Ivy", so it seemed like a good fit to the hub. Glad you enjoyed it.

      Wealthmadehealthy: I haven't tried the Burt's Bees soap yet, but I bet it's good. My daughter just got an outbreak of it over the weekend (hence the hub) and calamine was first on the scene. But, she has it all over her face and all around her nose. She swelled so badly we ended up taking her in for a shot on Sunday.

    • Wealthmadehealthy profile image

      Wealthmadehealthy 

      7 years ago from Somewhere in the Lone Star State

      Wow, the farm is loaded with this stuff. And I did not know that Burts Bees made a soap to help with it.

      I recognized it from the start, and got rid of most of it near the house. Have always kept calamine lotion handy for outbreaks. A mite old fashioned maybe, but has always worked...will check out Burts procudct...love his balm for the lips

      Thanks for all this great info!!!

    • Frieda Babbley profile image

      Frieda Babbley 

      7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

      Oh terrific info KCC! Love how you included the video; fun addition!

    • Granny's House profile image

      Granny's House 

      7 years ago from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time

      I have never had this or any of it. Thank God!

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 

      7 years ago from Somewhere near the center of Texas

      I cannot tell you how many times I have had an outbreak of Poison Ivy/Oak rash! I hate the stuff and I am so allergic to it that I have been hospitalized with it.

      My dogs bring in enough oil so that I get it every summer. Dang dogs. But once I get a rash, I know just what to do. First get hubby to wash the dogs and change all linens and everything the dogs have touched. Second, take benedryl and sleep as much as possible.

      Third, to alleviate the itching and help dry up the area, blow dry the area on the hottest setting of a hair dryer! I use a commercial heat gun!

      This trick I learned from an e.r. nurse. It works instantly!

      Once you have had the rash, you can immediately recognize the peculiar itch that comes with the rash and start treating it asap.

      I've tried all the commercial treatments and some of them do work pretty well. You will need to experiment with each to find which one works the best and good luck!

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