You caught a nasty case of poison ivy rash hiking in the woods or working in your yard. Now, you’re scratching up a storm at home and wondering — can my family catch this from me?
The short answer is no. Poison ivy rash, which is caused by an allergic reaction to an oil in the plant, is not contagious. Even the fluid from poison ivy blisters is not contagious. Only direct contact with the plant’s oil, called urushiol, can trigger poison ivy rash.
But here’s the rub: Touching the plant isn’t the only way to have direct contact with the oil.
Let’s say you got urushiol on your arm from touching the plant. If someone touches your arm before you wash off the oil, and before your skin absorbs it (which happens in a matter of minutes), they can get poison ivy rash. The same is true if you get the oil on your shirt or your shoe and someone else touches it, or touches a surface on which you placed an item. You can even get poison ivy rash from your dog or cat if the pet comes into contact with poison ivy and you touch the fur or hair.
That’s why it’s important to clean any items — and pets — that come into contact with poison ivy. Remove the clothing you were wearing when you were exposed and put it directly into the washing machine. Don’t drop the clothes on the rug or a chair first, and don’t let them touch the outside of the washing machine. If your shoes came into contact with the plant, clean the shoes and put the shoelaces in the wash. If your pet came into contact with poison ivy, shampoo him or her while wearing rubber gloves. As an extra precaution, you should wash the leash, too.
You should also wash other items that may have come into contact with the plant. That includes garden tools (and gloves), camping equipment, golf clubs, a bicycle you were riding and even jewelry you were wearing. You can wash them or remove the oil with rubbing alcohol.
Note, simply putting items aside to “air out” won’t do anything to prevent poison ivy rash, since urushiol can remain on surfaces for years.
Just as someone can get poison ivy rash if they touch your urushiol-contaminated skin, you can transfer it to other parts of your own body while the oil is still on your skin. Wash your exposed skin with soap and water as soon as possible after exposure. Rinse it with water if you don’t have access to soap, and wash with soap when you do. This also reduces the severity of the rash. Be sure to clean under your fingernails, where urushiol can hide.
Poison ivy rash is no fun, but if you’re smart about removing the urushiol from your body, your clothing and anything else that may be contaminated with it, you can help prevent others from catching it — and avoid getting re-infected yourself later on.
Article Written By: Marianne Wait, an award-winning health and wellness writer based in New Jersey.