June 18, 2019

Garden Variety: Tougher poison ivy

Can poison ivy really get any worse?

If you have ever had a reaction to the plant, just the inscribed memory of endless itching might make you doubtful that anything could rival it. For gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts who regularly encounter poison ivy, however, the rumors that the plant is becoming more abundant are starting to look true.

The news about poison ivy (Toxicodendron taxa) is more than rumor, but if you heard it from a friend, it would be easy to put it in a box with old wives’ tales and snake oils. Research at Duke University in the early 2000s started the discussion when the results of a six-year study on the relationship between poison ivy and elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide were released.

The bottom line from the report’s abstract reads: “Our results indicate that Toxicodendron taxa will become more abundant and more ‘toxic’ in the future, potentially affecting global forest dynamics and human health.”

In the study, when atmospheric carbon dioxide increased in a forest, poison ivy was able to photosynthesize better and use water more efficiently, making it grow faster and larger than it would otherwise. In addition, the urushiol (the oil responsible for skin irritation) produced by these plants was more allergenic than in plants at normal atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

Elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide is related to growth stimulation in other species of plants also, but the rate of increase in poison ivy is higher than most and will help the plant outcompete others as carbon dioxide levels increase.

Unfortunately, little can be done to stop poison ivy besides avoidance and controlling it on your own property. Learn to recognize the plant, characterized by compound leaves with three leaflets. Poison ivy can be a vine, a shrub or something that looks like a perennial groundcover with single leaves coming out of the ground. Along the Kansas River north of Lawrence, large patches of waist-high poison ivy are easy to find. By mid-to-late summer the leaves often have reddish spots on them that make them easier to recognize.

If you encounter poison ivy, avoid touching any part of the plant or contacting it with tools or clothing. Urushiol, the oil produced by the plant, can be carried on objects and cause a reaction later through indirect contact. Urushiol can also be inhaled if poison ivy plants are burned.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 80 to 90 percent of humans are allergic to urushiol, but allergies can develop for those who think they are immune. Urushiol reactions are characterized by itchy red bumps, patches and weeping blisters.

— Jennifer Smith is a former horticulture extension agent for K-State Research and Extension and horticulturist for Lawrence Parks and Recreation. She is the host of “The Garden Show” and has been a gardener since childhood. Send your gardening questions and feedback to Lawrence Living@ljworld.com.

Lawrence Journal-World.

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Garden Variety: Tougher poison ivy

10 Health Woes Summer Can Bring

Summer’s almost here, and so are microbes and other environmental woes that can bring your sun and surf fun into a halt.

Among the infections that tend to come when the temperatures rise, some are mild while others can be deadly.  From poisonous plants to “brain-eating” amoebas, here are ten health hazards you should be aware of this summer:

Valley fever

Valley fever, also called coccidioidomycosis, is an infection by a fungus that lives in soil. People become infected by breathing in the spores of the fungi from the air.

This fungus is thought to grow best in soil after heavy rainfall, and then to disperse into the air during hot, dry conditions. Researchers have found an increase in the number of infection during hot and dry weather conditions, for example during drought, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In the U.S., these fungi are found in Western states including California and Arizona, but have also been recently found in south-central Washington.

It is difficult to prevent breathing in fungal spores, but people who live in or travel to areas where the fungi are common, can try to avoid spending time in dusty places as much as possible. Most people who become infected experience flu-like symptoms, and get better on their own within two to three months, but some need antifungal medication, according to the CDC.

West Nile virus

West Nile virus lives in birds and mosquitoes, and is transmitted to people by mosquito bites. In the United States, infections tend to rise starting June, and the number of cases peaks in the middle of August, according to the CDC.

Most infected people show no symptoms, but some develop a fever, headache and nausea. About 1 percent of people develop a serious neurologic illness such as encephalitis, meningitis or paralysis, and about 10 percent of people in this group die from their infection.

You can reduce the risk of getting infected with West Nile virus by using insect repellent and wearing protective clothing, such as long sleeves and pants, to prevent mosquito bites.

Brain-eating amoeba

The Naegleria fowleri is a heat-loving microscopic amoeba living in warm freshwater, for example lakes, rivers, and hot springs. It can also be found in soil. Most cases of infection with this amoeba have occurred during the summer months.

People usually get infected by swimming in warm, fresh water. Water containing the parasite can enter the body through the nose, and then travel to the brain and cause deadly inflammation of the brain and the membrane that surrounds it.

Infections with Naegleria fowleri are rare – in the 10 years from 2003 to 2012, 31 infections were reported in the United States, according to the CDC. But most people who become infected don’t survive.

Lyme disease

Deer ticks that carry the Lyme disease bacteria are most active during the spring, early summer and fall. They ticks favor shady, humid environments, and can be found clinging to grass, in lawns and gardens, at the edges of woods, and in old stone walls, according to New York’s Department of Health.

To protect yourself from tick bites and Lyme disease, avoid walking in places where ticks are likely to live, and use insect repellents and skin covering clothing.

Poison ivy, sumac and oak

Some 80 to 90 percent of people are allergic to an oil in the sap of plants such as poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

People are more likely to come into contact with these plants in summertime when they are more common. The allergic reaction causes a painful and itching rash, which can often be treated with over-the-counter topical lotions and antihistamines. Learning about how these plants look like can help avoiding contact.

Ear Infection

Swimmer’s ear, also called otitis externa, is a common infection of the outer ear canal that results in about 2.4 million doctor’s visits and $500 million in health care costs each year, according to the CDC.

To prevent getting an ear infection from organisms living in the water, use a bathing cap or ear plug when swimming, and dry your ears well with a towel after swimming. Leave your ear wax alone, though, because it helps protect your ear canal from infection.


Extreme heat kills about 650 Americans yearly, and sends many more to emergency rooms, according to the CDC. To put things into perspective, between 1979 and 2003 more people have died from extreme heat than from tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes combined.

Extreme heat causes hyperthermia, a condition in which a person’s body absorbs more heat than it dissipates. Hyperthermia can lead to dangerously high body temperatures that require medical attention.

To stay safe, the CDC recommends using air conditioning during hot summer days, keeping hydrated, and checking at least twice a day on the elderly and those who have other medical conditions that put them at higher risk for heat-related problems. Also, never leave children, or pets, in a parked car.

Hand, foot, and mouth disease

Hand, foot, and mouth disease is a viral infection that usually affects children younger than 5 years old, but can occur in adults too. Patients experience fever, mouth sores, and a skin rash, according to the CDC.

There’s no vaccine to protect against the viruses that cause hand, foot, and mouth disease, but maintaining personal hygiene such as washing hands and disinfecting common surfaces or toys can lower the risk of infection.

Kidney stones

Another thing to be wary of during the summer is dehydration, which doctors say contributes to a peak in number of people developing kidney stones.

As you sweat, the body loses water and makes less urine, which allows for stone-causing minerals to form stones in the kidneys and urinary tract.


This virus, carried by rodents, can cause a rare but deadly disease called hantavirus pulmonary syndrome. During summer months when people spend more time outdoors, they are more likely to come in contact with droppings of infected rodents, and become infected. Also, when fresh rodent urine or droppings are stirred up, tiny droplets containing the virus get into the air and can infect people through inhalation. 

To avoid contact with the virus, people are advised to keep their homes and workplace rodent-free and be cautious of mouse activity in campsites, parks and cabins where they plan to spend time.

Email Bahar Gholipour or follow her @alterwired. Follow us @LiveScience, Facebook & Google+. Original article on Live Science.

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10 Health Woes Summer Can Bring

Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies

Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies

poison ivy allergies bee stings

GENESEE COUNTY, MI – The warm weather and sunshine finally
seem to be showing up more frequently these days.

Being outdoors and taking advantage of the springtime
weather is great, but this time of the year also brings worries of sunburn, bee stings, poison ivy and allergies.

Health officials in Genesee County have some advice on the springtime
topics and offer some tips about staying comfortable outside:


No, it’s not summer yet. But once the snow melts and the sun
starts to shine, it’s time to think about being protected from the sun, said Dr.
Robert Soderstrom, a Flint Township dermatologist.

People haven’t had to worry about sun exposure all winter,
so oftentimes they forget to worry about it when the weather first starts to
get nice, he said.

“As people go into the spring and summer, we caution people
about sun exposure. People forget,” Soderstrom said. “People have gone months
without any exposure. It doesn’t take much sun for people to burn sometimes.”

From the first of May to the end of September, people should
think about sun protection, he said. Wearing hats, covering up the skin with
clothing and using a sunscreen with at least 15 SPF are ways to protect again
the sun.

As more people begin running, biking and exercising outside,
it’s best to get out before 10 a.m. or after 2 or 3 p.m., when the sun is not at its peak in the sky, Soderstrom said.

“No sunburn is safe,” he said. “A lot of it is just common
sense. We ask people to keep it in mind.”

Bee stings

This is the time that bees start waking up, but a single
sting with minor swelling isn’t anything to worry about, local physicians said.

If someone, however, starts to have trouble breathing, they
become dizzy, get hives or their tongue starts swelling up, then emergency care
is needed right away, said Dr. Gerald Natzke, a Flint Township environmental
medicine specialist.

If the sting causes pain, itching or some swelling, it is
suggested to use Calamine lotion or take Benadryl.

Baking soda mixed with water is an old trick to help with
the itch from a bee sting. One trick some may not know is you can make a
similar paste with meat tenderizer and water, Natzke said.

“Bee venom is a protein. It can be denatured by using the
meat tenderizers,” he said.

Poison Ivy

poison ivy
Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies

Living in Michigan,
knowing what poison ivy looks like is important, Soderstrom said.

“Poison ivy is an epidemic in Michigan. It is everywhere. It
starts out this type of year as a low-growing weed and then begins vining up in
the summertime,” he said.

Eastern poison ivy is typically a hairy, ropelike vine with
three shiny green (or red in the fall) leaves budding from one small stem,
according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Western
poison ivy is typically a low shrub with three leaves that does not form a
climbing vine. It may have yellow or green flowers and white to green-yellow or
amber berries.

Soderstrom said it’s known for its three leaves.

Poison ivy, however, is not just found in the woods, he
said. People can come in contact with it while gardening, in a park, off in the
weeds or climbing up a tree or house, he said.

While some people will be unaffected when coming into
contact with poison ivy, others will be greatly affected after only a short
exposure to it, Soderstrom said.

A poison ivy reaction often shows as a rash or blisters in a
straight line and it takes about 24 to 48 hours to really break out. The rash
will get worse within the first few days before it gets better, and it can take
about two or three weeks to completely clear up, he said.

Over-the-counter medication, like Calamine lotion, will help
with the itching, but if it blisters, people need prescription medicine,
Soderstrom said.

Poison ivy contact really starts picking up in the
middle of May and grows rather dramatically in the summer. If people know they
are going to be in weeded areas or the woods, they should wear long sleeves
and pants, he said.

Once someone realizes they’ve been in contact with poison
ivy, they should shower and soap up within 30 minutes, Soderstrom said. Poison
ivy cannot be spread from one person to another, but it can be spread off the clothing
the person was wearing if they are not washed right after contact.


Believe it or not, allergy season has already began, said

Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies

Trees are releasing pollen and have been for
a while, he said. Grass allergies won’t be far away, along with mold allergies.

“We have a lot of trees in this area, so it’s real common to
have tree-sensitive individuals,” Natzke said. “It’s going to come out full
force here in the next few weeks.”

Shortness of breath, coughing, watery and itchy eyes and
runny nose are all signs of allergies. If allergies to pollen or grass are not
an issue, spring is a great time to open the windows and air out the house to
let chemicals out and fresh air in, Natzke said.

If allergies are a problem, opening the windows might make
it worse, so Natzke suggested getting an air purifier.

With spring just beginning, it might be a good time to talk
with a physician about the best ways to control allergies, he said.

Medications are good for people who have mild to moderate
allergies for a short period of time, Natzke said. There is nasal spray
available to get some of the pollen and mold out of the nose.

“Allergies are getting worse and getting more prevalent,”
Natzke said, noting that decreased immune systems have a lot to do with it. “Put
yourself in a healthier place, by reducing stressers and improving their sleep
habits, exercise and reducing exposure to toxins.”

Exposure to chemicals from things such as potent household
cleaners, pesticides and smoke and wood burning stoves increase the potential
for the development allergies. As the warmer
weather encourages spring cleaning and painting, Natzke advised people to be
cautious of the products they use.


Although it’s not common in the area, springtime is a good
time to be aware of the disease.

Rabies is a viral disease that is usually transmitted from animal
to animal, but can also infect humans as a result of an animal bite, according
to the Genesee County Health Department’s website.

People are out
and about and playing, they could come certainly in contact with certain type
of animals and animals that may appear wild or have abnormal behavior and can
be bitten,” said Dr. Gary Johnson, Genesee County Health Department medical
director. “Just be on the lookout for any type of animal that looks (and acts)

Animals most affected by rabies are wild animals such as
skunks, raccoons, foxes and bats. Domestic animals – usually unvaccinated cats
and dogs – can also spread the virus, according to the website.

Johnson said people should not try to capture a wild animal
they think is affected with rabies. If bitten by a wild animal, the individual
should call their primary health care provider or visit an emergency room.

For more information about rabies and what to do if bitten,
visit the Genesee County Health Department’s website.

Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies

Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies
Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies
Get ready for spring with tips and advice on sunburns, bee stings, poison ivy, allergies

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