Poison ivy (Rhus radicans or Toxicodendron radicans) can be easily identified and should be avoided. A mere touch of the foliage can result in a blotching of the skin and burning water blisters, which cause the flesh beneath to swell and throb with intense pain. Symptoms may become evident within a short time after exposure, or they may take a few days to appear. Fortunately, such an attack leaves no scars, and general health is not impaired.

The names “poison ivy” and “poison oak” are often incorrectly used interchangeably. Poison oak (Rhus toxicodendron), is a low-growing, non-climbing shrub. Poison ivy can be a low-growing shrub or a vine that climbs to the top of the tallest tree.

Aerial rootlets enable the vine to attach itself to whatever it may be growing on. Leaves are compound, with three leaflets that may have smooth, scalloped, or irregularly toothed margins. 

All parts of the plant, including stem and roots, contain and secrete a nonvolatile oil (oleo resin), which affects the skin. Because the oil is insoluble in water, washing with water alone merely spreads the oil to other areas and increases the discomfort. However, washing with a strong alkali soap such as yellow laundry or naptha will relieve the discomfort. Alcohol will dissolve and remove the oily substance from the skin and if applied soon enough will prevent irritation.

Burning poison ivy after it has been cut or grubbed out and dried can be hazardous because smoke can cause the same symptoms. Inhaling the smoke can result in serious consequences.

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