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May 20, 2018

Poison ivy It's getting stronger and tougher

Mark Laliberte is used to getting poison ivy, but the reaction he suffered in July was the worst ever.

The 37-year-old Candia man was clearing brush on his property when he slipped into some bushes.

“I didn’t see it, but once I fell into it, I knew it was poison ivy. I ran inside and showered, but it was too late. It was all over my face and neck, particularly on my left side,” he said.

Beth Almon’s doctor told her she has the worst case of poison ivy she’s ever seen. After battling the itch for three weeks, Almon is now on her second batch of Prednisone, a drug used to treat severe allergic reactions.

“This year, for some odd reason I can’t get rid of it out of my system,” said Almon, 32, of Raymond.

The reason for the severe cases may have something to do with changes in the poison ivy plant caused by higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, experts say.

Poison ivy is thriving and becoming much more potent, according to Lewis H. Ziska, a research weed ecologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Ziska has studied the effects of carbon dioxide on plants and has found that it’s changing the chemistry of the urushiol oil in poison ivy, making it more toxic and more likely to cause a skin reaction.

His research looked at how plants react to more sunlight appearing in forests that have become fragmented, especially in urban areas. Ziska found that poison ivy flourishes, spreading faster and becoming more potent.

“Poison ivy tends to do better than most of the plant species we looked at. It’s able to take in the additional carbon dioxide and convert it into additional growth,” he said.

While she hasn’t seen more poison ivy sufferers than usual, Dr. Ellen Bernard of Epping Regional Health Center said there are treatments available to ease the itching and clear things up. Topical steroids can be used, but more severe cases may require an oral steroid.

Susan Chadwick, director of marketing at Derry Medical Center, said she takes steps to avoid poison ivy, but still ended up with a case in July.

“I’m very sensitive to it, so I try like the devil to avoid it,” said Chadwick, whose colleague also suffered a severe reaction this summer and ended up on Prednisone.

jschreiber@newstote.com

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Poison ivy It's getting stronger and tougher

Climate change means mutant poison ivy

Climate change means mutant poison ivy

Climate change means mutant poison ivy – Back in college, I developed an oozing poison ivy rash all over my neck and arms and had to go on steroids — just because I inadvertently grazed the clothes of a friend who had gone tromping through the woods earlier that day. What’s worse, it happened right before the Dalai Lama visited my school. While my classmates were leaning forward in their folding chairs to capture his every syllable, I was shifting in my seat, clutching a bottle of calamine lotion, and desperately trying to look calm while the Lama talked about peace of mind — something I only know from reading the transcript. It’s hard to listen while your skin is on fire.

poison ivy climate change

So yeah, I’m pretty allergic to poison ivy. But a lot of people are — 80 percent of the population reacts to the vine with welts and maddeningly itchy rashes. So the fact that poison ivy plants are getting bigger and more poisonous due to climate change isn’t exactly welcome news. But that’s precisely what’s happening; scientific research indicates that with higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the poison ivy plant grows larger, and its “oil” (a.k.a. the awful poisonous stuff) becomes more potent.

Fortunately, someone’s already thinking about how we could do a better job getting rid of the plant. (Rabbits and deer might miss it — they’re immune to the ivy’s poison, so it makes a nice leafy lunch for them — but consequences to the overall ecosystem would be minor, experts say.) Last week a group of horticulturists, scientists, and nurses convened in Philadelphia for the first conference devoted exclusively to the nettlesome vine. Ivy eradication specialist Umar Mycka, who also works at the Philadelphia zoo, organized the small, four-day gathering. One of his goals was to swap itching remedies and removal strategies with other poison ivy experts.

poison ivy

“If you want to deal with a problem, you have to know what size problem you’re dealing with,” Mycka says. “These plants are so powerful to start with, it doesn’t take much of a touch from carbon to make it much worse.”

That’s exactly what scientists found when they planted poison ivy in an experimental forest at Duke University, piping in carbon dioxide to artificially raise the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere to the levels it’s expected to be by about 2050. The result, published in 2006: like other plants subjected to a high-CO2 environment, the poison ivy plants grew 150 percent bigger, with 153 percent higher concentrations of their oil, called urushiol.

Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture who co-authored the study, estimates that poison ivy plants are already growing 50 to 60 percent larger than they did 100 years ago. He told me that warmer temperatures are probably also pushing poison ivy-growing zones northward (again, as with many other plants), and urbanization is creating conditions amenable to the wily plant, which thrives in semi-developed areas with more sunlight.

“Think of heat islands or cities as climate change in miniature,” Ziska says. “There are higher C02 concentrations, higher temperatures. There’s a fragmentation of ecosystems. All of those factors allow poison ivy to enter an environment that it may not have been in before.”

At the Philadelphia conference, attendees had a chance to see poison ivy’s monstrous proportions firsthand. Mycka led them to a public park near the center of the city, where a large vine had been growing up a tree. Its weight after removal: 506 pounds. And climate change is going to make it worse? I can already feel my skin burning.

poison ivy

poison ivy

Climate change means mutant poison ivy

Climate change means mutant poison ivy

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