What's Going Around: Poison ivy

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You’ve probably heard the old saying, “Leaves of three. Let them be.” It refers to poison ivy and serves as proof that there’s a lot of truth in old sayings.

Even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include it in information on poison ivy. The rash from the vine is What’s Going Around this week as many people have been tackling yard work and now have poison ivy rashes to prove it.

In some cases, people are itching and scratching but have not left their homes. As it happens, there is something else putting people at risk for poison ivy and its rash—the family pet. Poison ivy contains an oil that is sticky and causes the itchy rash. It can get on your cat or dog's fur.

Experts say it doesn't adhere well to animal fur but when owners cuddle or touch their pets, it transfers easily to human skin.

Dr. Mike Patrick of Nationwide Children's Hospital said poison ivy can also trigger an allergic reaction in some people if they inhale it.

“That can happen like if you throw poison ivy on a bonfire for instance and so it's burning, and that oil can be in the air and that can be particularly dangerous," he said.

Poison ivy rash is a year-round risk but when it is warm outside, the risk level increases. The experts say you can protect your family and yourself by knowing how to identify poison ivy.

They suggested you spend some time on the internet searching and familiarizing plants on your own. Once you come into contact with poison ivy, Dr. Mike said it’s best to shower instead of taking a bath.

Showering prevents the risk that the oil from the plant will pool in the water and then re-settle back on your skin.

You can treat a rash and its symptoms if it is localized in one area with one percent hydrocortisone cream or by using an over the counter antihistamine. Your doctor may prescribe an oral steroid if the rash is on your face or has spread all over the body.