Avoiding poison ivy in the summer

Published 7:00 am Thursday, July 21, 2016

Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are indigenous to Pearl River County and should be avoided while playing outside in the summer.

Poison ivy (pictured), poison oak and poison sumac are indigenous to Pearl River County and should be avoided while playing outside in the summer.

It’s that time of year when kids have the freedom to enjoy the beautiful weather and outdoors in the South. However, that comes possible exposure to the indigenous poisonous plants such as poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.
Dr. Kenneth Long, a family practice physician at the Picayune Family Clinic, said, “annually, it is estimated that 25 to 40 million Americans require medical treatment after exposure to these plants.”
Although only half of the population will react to the poisonous plants, it is still recommended to be cautious and aware of them to avoid medical complications, said Long.
He said that firefighters, forestry workers and farmers are most at risk of coming into contact with these plants. However, children can easily come into contact with poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac if not educated on how to identify them.
Symptoms from these poisonous plants vary. Long said the most common reaction is a rash, which usually appears on the skin about 12-48 hours after exposure.
“The worst case scenario after exposure to these plants is anaphylactic shock and death, but that is extremely rare,” said Long.
People have these reactions due to an allergy toward the oily substance, urushiol, which the plants produce. This oil is found on the leaves, stem, fruit and roots of the plant, Long said, and can be spread from person to person or even pet to person if exposed.
“Pets can spread the oil to humans so they should be kept from running through wooded areas to prevent urushiol from sticking to their fur,” said Long.
He also recommends that if patients think they have been exposed to these plants, showering or at least washing hands with warm soap water will help prevent future reactions and spreading of the rash, which could cause a more severe reaction.
Poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are all found in Mississippi, Long said, with poison ivy being the most common.
He states that poison ivy grows as a vine or freestanding plant in the South. According to techlabs.com, poison ivy is an almond-shaped three-leaf plant ranging in color from light to dark green. Poison oak, which can grow as a dense shrub, also is a three-leaf plant but has scalloped edges, states the website. These edges resemble those of an oak tree leaf. Poison sumac is different from the other plants as it is a 7-13 leaf plant with red veins, states the website, and can produce small white or grey berries.
Long said there are over-the-counter skin products specially designed for the prevention of poisonous plants. However, if those are not available, he recommends using a moisturizer cream or even sunscreen to provide some protection, but still urges people to be aware of surroundings while outside.
For more information about these poisonous plants, call the Picayune Family Practice Clinic at 601-358-9630.

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