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April 21, 2018

Steering Clear of Poison Ivy

Alexa Grace
Personal Health
Personal Health

Jane Brody on health and aging.

I was once among those who claim, “I could walk through a field of poison ivy and not get it.” One day I learned otherwise: On a hike, I needed to relieve myself in the great outdoors and ended up with an impossibly itchy, blistering rash on a most delicate body part.

Too late I learned that you can develop an allergic reaction to poison ivy after previously uneventful exposures, which induce a sensitivity to the plant’s oily sap, urushiol. Once sensitized, your skin is likely to react to every subsequent exposure. Even people repeatedly exposed who appear to be immune may react to high concentrations of the toxin.

I also learned not to rely on the popular warning, “Leaves of three, let them be,” to alert me to the presence of Toxicodendron radicans, as the poison ivy plant is aptly called by botanists. It is not just the leaves that can provoke a reaction; the stems, roots, flowers and berries all contain urushiol.

Touching or brushing against any of these plant parts, even if they are dead, can cause a reaction. The sap is hardy and can cause a rash in the dead of winter, or even a year after contaminating clothing or shoes that are not thoroughly cleaned.

Poison oak.iStockPoison oak.
Poison sumac.Zoran Ivanovich/The New York TimesPoison sumac.
Poison ivy.iStockPoison ivy.

Urushiol shows up elsewhere, including in the skin of mangoes (and the leaves and bark of the mango tree), as I discovered when I ate a mango still in the rind and ended up with a blistering rash on my mouth. Cashew shells also have the toxin, which is why cashews are sold shelled and processed (either roasted or in the case of “raw” cashews, steamed) at a temperature high enough to destroy urushiol. Poison ivy is not the only problem plant one might encounter while hiking, camping or simply strolling in the countryside. T. radicans has two relatives, poison oak and poison sumac, that don’t always form the classic clusters but are equally toxic troublemakers.

Myths and misconceptions abound about these three plants and the reactions they can cause. Knowing the facts can help to spare you and your family considerable distress.

First, learn to recognize the plants in their various growth patterns. While poison ivy is most often encountered as a small ground plant, it also grows as a shrub and vine. The vines, which turn bright red in fall, were once used to adorn buildings in England.

Poison oak, which has compound leaves made up of three (or sometimes five) leaflets, usually grows as a shrub, but will form a vine in the Western states.

Poison sumac, which grows as a tall shrub or small tree, produces leaves with rows of paired leaflets and a single leaflet at the end. It likes a wet habitat, growing in peat bogs in the Northeast and Midwest and swamps in the Southeast.

Urushiol can penetrate cloth. Although long sleeves, pants and gloves can reduce the risk of exposure, they cannot guarantee protection. Even rubber gloves can be breached. If you must handle the plants or are likely to contact poison ivy when gardening, wear vinyl gloves.

You don’t have to touch the plant directly to react to urushiol. Gardening tools, sporting equipment, even a pet that has been in a patch of poison ivy — all can cause a reaction. My brother, who has been sensitive to urushiol since childhood, once developed the rash on his arm after retrieving a baseball that had rolled through poison ivy.

Before possible exposure, use an over-the-counter skin-care product containing bentoquatam (IvyBlock) to prevent or reduce absorption of urushiol. The combination of this barrier product and protective clothing is your best defense against an inadvertent encounter.

But there is no scientific evidence that jewelweed, feverfew, plantain or other herbal remedies prevent or cure a urushiol-induced rash.

Nor do you become immune to urushiol through repeated exposures to small amounts. Quite the opposite. There is no way to desensitize a person to urushiol as there is with pollen and peanut allergies. Eating mangoes or cashews will not work.

Contrary to popular belief, a poison ivy rash is not contagious. It cannot be spread by oozing blisters, or by scratching or touching the rash. Only direct contact with urushiol causes a reaction. (Scratching can result in an infection, however.)

The rash can appear on different parts of the body at various times. This may happen because the parts were exposed at different times, or because areas with thicker skin are less easily penetrated by the oil. The delicate skin of the genital and perianal areas, for example, is more easily breached than tougher skin on the hands.

Repeated tilling or mowing can eventually kill poison ivy plants, as can repeated applications of an herbicide like Roundup. The latter should be applied with serious caution and only on a warm, sunny day with little or no wind when the plants are actively growing.

If you are highly allergic, or wary of applying herbicides, clearing your property of the plants may be best left to a professional. While goats are said to have a hearty appetite for poison ivy plants, they may eat everything else in the yard, too.

Never try to burn a poison plant. Burning releases the toxin, which may land on skin or, worse, be inhaled and cause a serious internal reaction.

Should you contact a urushiol-containing plant, the American Academy of Dermatology recommends washing your skin immediately. Lukewarm, soapy water is best, but even plain water can limit exposure to the sap. Take care in removing contaminated clothing, and wash it separately as soon as possible.

You can relieve a rash by applying cool compresses with an astringent like Burow’s solution, soaking the affected area in colloidal oatmeal, or using calamine lotion; all are sold over the counter. Do not apply products containing a topical antihistamine, like Benadryl, which can cause a sensitivity reaction that makes matters worse.

Severe reactions may require medically prescribed treatment with an oral corticosteroid like prednisone.

A version of this article appears in print on 06/17/2014, on page D7 of the NewYork edition with the headline: Steering Clear of Poison Ivy.

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Steering Clear of Poison Ivy

Patrice Wymore Flynn dies at 87; actress and widow of Errol Flynn

The Kansas-born actress began her theatrical career in musicals, making her Broadway debut in 1948 in the production “Hold It!” She was soon signed by Warner Bros. as a starlet and headed to Hollywood.

In the early 1950s, she appeared in Doris Day musicals such as “Tea for Two,” “Starlift” and “I’ll See You in My Dreams,” and had supporting roles in “The Big Trees” starring Kirk Douglas and Randolph Scott’s Western “The Man Behind the Gun.”

She played a co-ed named “Poison” Ivy Williams in the Ronald Reagan-Virginia Mayo comedy “She’s Working Her Way Through College” (1952). In 1960, she played Frank Sinatra’s girlfriend in the original version of “Ocean’s 11.”

She met her future husband when she was cast as the female lead in the 1950 Western “Rocky Mountain.” When they began filming near Gallup, N.M., the young actress knew little of the handsome Flynn, then an established 41-year-old star known for his roles in “Captain Blood” (1935) and “The Adventures of Robin Hood” (1938). He had been married twice before and was trailed by a reputation as a womanizing alcoholic. In the early 1940s, he was tried for statutory rape in a high-profile legal proceeding and eventually was acquitted.

After Ms. Wymore wed Flynn in 1950, they spent much of their nine-year marriage in Jamaica’s Portland parish, where the actor had a scenic coastal property.

Mrs. Wymore Flynn often described Jamaica as the couple’s retreat from the pressures of Hollywood. She told the New York Times in 2003, “The studio image of Errol was one thing, and he fought with it constantly. He was actually shy, a gentleman. He was a fireside-and-slippers man.”

About his heavy drinking and drug usage, she told the Times, “I never saw Errol in over his head.”

After Flynn’s death of a heart attack in 1959, the young widow briefly revived her acting career after giving it up for a few years when she and Flynn had a daughter, Arnella. Mrs. Wymore Flynn returned to Jamaica permanently in 1967, where she devoted herself to building a wicker-furniture business and raising cattle, once winning the Champion Farmer of Jamaica title.

She said she was looking for a “more enduringly satisfactory way of life” for her and Arnella, who became a model and died after an apparent drug overdose in 1998. “I always wanted to own a cattle farm when I was finished with my career. I just had no idea it would be in Jamaica.”

Mrs. Wymore Flynn, who never remarried, is survived by a grandson, Luke Flynn, an actor and model who bears a strong resemblance to his famous grandfather.

In his autobiography, “My Wicked, Wicked Ways,” Errol Flynn described his wife as an “attractive, warm and wholesome” woman who “could cook Indian curry” and dance and sing. He also wrote: “Nobody ever tried harder than Pat to make me happy.”

Mrs. Wymore Flynn told the London Daily Telegraph years later that she and her husband were frequent lunch and dinner hosts to entertainment industry figures such as Noel Coward and Albert “Cubby” Broccoli.

She recalled of her husband, “He had a wonderful talent for saying at 10 a.m., ‘Darling, we’ve got 20 people coming for lunch. There were no supermarkets in those days, but someone would always bring over a suckling pig, and someone else some fish.” She would play the grand piano as her husband looked on in admiration.

“Errol loved music, but he couldn’t play the piano or carry a tune vocally,” she said.


— From staff and wire reports

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Patrice Wymore Flynn dies at 87; actress and widow of Errol Flynn

Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Redemptive words for poison ivy

Western poison ivy grows as a knee-high shrub statewide. We are now seeing patches of it that have begun displaying beautiful yellow and red autumn foliage colors. The shiny leaves always have three leaflets, with the center leaflet featuring a longer stem. The plants grow in forest areas but also out in the open. Small, light-green flowers appear in June, and clusters of small, berrylike, pale-yellow fruits are ripe in September and hang on through the winter.

The common native poison ivy plants can be a nuisance to humans because of the serious skin irritations they cause, but they’re good ground cover that helps control erosion, is visually attractive and has considerable wildlife value. Included in the list of over 50 species of birds that eat the seeded fruits are sharp-tailed grouse, ring-necked pheasants, wild turkeys, black-capped chickadees, white-throated sparrows, yellow-rumped and Cape May warblers, and several of the woodpeckers. Black bears and rabbits are among the mammals that eat poison ivy leaves, stems and fruit.

It appears that only humans are susceptible to the toxic, oily compound that’s carried in the plant’s leaves, stems, roots, flowers and fruits. Sensitivity to poisoning can vary from person to person and can change during the course of a lifetime.

Jim Gilbert’s Nature Notes are heard on WCCO Radio Sundays at 7:15 a.m. His observations have been part of the Minnesota Weatherguide Environment Calendars since 1977, and he is the author of five books on nature in Minnesota. He taught and worked as a naturalist for 50 years.

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Jim Gilbert's Nature Notes: Redemptive words for poison ivy

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:

Sunburns

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.

Allergies

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

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.

Rabies

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)
strangely.”

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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