Super Poison Ivy

Super poison ivy gives scientists a new itch to halt global warming

      WASHINGTON (AP) — Another reason to worry about global warming: more and itchier poison ivy.
      The noxious vine grows faster and bigger as carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere rise, researchers reported Monday.
      And a CO2-driven vine also produces more of its rash-causing chemical, urushiol, conclude experiments conducted in a forest at Duke University where scientists increased carbon-dioxide levels to those expected in 2050.
      Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas — a chemical that traps heat similar to the way a greenhouse does — that's considered a major contributor to global warming. Greenhouse gases have been steadily increasing in the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.
      Poison ivy is common in woods around the country, making it a bane of hikers, campers, fighters of forest fires, even backyard gardeners. Its itchy, sometimes blistering rash is one of the most widely reported ailments to poison-control centers, with more than 350,000 reported cases a year.
      Compared to poison ivy grown in usual atmospheric conditions, those exposed to the extra-high carbon dioxide grew about three times larger — and produced more allergenic form of urushiol, scientists from Duke and Harvard University reported.
      Their study appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
      "The fertilization effect of rising CO2 on poison ivy ... and the shift toward a more allergenic form of urushiol have important implications for the future health of both humans and forests," the study concludes.

Taking the Itch Out of Poison Ivy

June 20, 2007 - 9:56am
Kristi King, WTOP Radio

WASHINGTON - Summertime brings with it the threat of poison ivy, even if you don't spend a lot of time outdoors.

You can get poison ivy if you come in contact with the clothing of someone who has been exposed, such as a golfer or a hiker. Or, you can get the rash from a pet that has been exposed.

"Once your skin touches the clothing, you can develop the rash of poison ivy," says Dr. Lynn McKinley-Grant, a dermatologist at Washington Hospital Center.

"Your pets will go outside and roll around in poison ivy, and they will come back inside and you will pet them. We see people coming in with blisters on their hands, or the dog sleeps with them and they have rashes on their body."

The American Academy of Dermatology says about 85 percent of the population will develop an allergic reaction if exposed to poison ivy, oak or sumac.

McKinley-Grant says if you know you're allergic, you may want to put on a topical cream to block the oils in poison ivy.

"They bind the oils to the cream and then it just washes off without getting to your skin," she says.

"You have to remember that each exposure gets worse. If you are exposed once, you might get a little rash. The next time you get more of a rash. The next time you get a blistering rash."

If you've been out and know you've been exposed, you can reduce the likelihood of spreading poison ivy's oils.

"If you can immediately wash it off, it's very helpful," McKinley-Grant says. "Wash the local area first. Wash and rinse."

She says then you can use an over-the-counter topical hydrocortisone, but warns a lot of people are allergic to topical products, such as Benadryl and Lanacane. Other poison ivy sufferers recommend Tecnu, a product that removes the oils from the skin, or Domeboro, which is an astringent that helps soothe the inflammation.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, a number of over-the-counter products may help dry up the blisters:

  • aluminum acetate (Burrows solution)
  • baking soda
  • Aveeno (oatmeal bath)
  • aluminum hydroxide gel
  • calamine
  • kaolin
  • zinc acetate
  • zinc carbonate
  • zinc oxide