Leaves of three let them be: Do you know what poison ivy looks like?

As the seasons change, so do the types of calls coming into Idaho’s Poison Center. With the beginning of summer come the calls about poison plants.

You can recognize poison ivy by the grouping of three leaves from a single  stock.
You can recognize poison ivy by the grouping of three leaves from a single stock. (Photo courtesy of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac can release an oily substance called urushiol when the leaves or other parts of the plant are damaged or burned. While people are most familiar with poison ivy, all three of these plants can be found throughout Idaho. Almost 85 percent of people exposed to even a very small amount of the oil will have an allergic reaction that causes an itchy, red rash with bumps and blisters.

Poison ivy isn’t contagious unless you spread the oil from person to person or from one body part to another person. The poison ivy rash doesn’t spread to other parts of the body unless you haven’t washed properly and the oil is still on your hands or under your fingernails. Pets also can spread the oil to people if it gets on their fur. Gardening tools and sporting or camping equipment should always be rinsed off. The urushiol can linger for years on a surface if it isn’t washed off with water.

Tips on Poison Ivy

  • Recognize what poison ivy looks like: “Leaves of three let them be” or “1, 2, 3 let it be” are catchy phrases to help you remember that the plant has leaves clustered from a single stock in qroupings of three.
  • Wash your hands and any exposed skin with soap and cool water as soon as possible if you come in contact with poison ivy.
  • Wear long sleeves and pants and impermeable gloves when working in areas you think poison ivy may be growing.
  • Wash any exposed clothing immediately.
  • Bathe pets if they have passed through the plants and avoid touching the exposed area(s) until properly bathed
  • Wash garden tools and gloves often.
  • Don’t scratch your rash because it can cause an infection.
  • Lukewarm baths with a colloidal oatmeal preparation may help relieve the itching.
  • Applying cool compresses, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream also may help to relieve the itchy skin.
  • Contact the Idaho Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 if you have any questions.

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