Campus overrun by poison ivy growth

By Ryan Mulloy
November 8, 2001

Poison ivy has recently become an issue on campus. People are beginning to take notice of it around the chapel and in other various locations on campus.

The root of poison ivy is reddish, with large, three-parted leaves. The center leaf formation has a longer stalk, while the lateral ones are almost stalkless. When fully grown, the leaves are thin and about four inches long. The leaves are covered in an acrid juice that turns dark once exposed to air and is the cause of the skin irritation through swelling and inflammation. When the leaves dry up, they become very brittle with black discolorations, spots of dried juice.

The skin rash is a delayed type hypersensitivity that has a T-cell response. T-cells are the cells that make up the immune system. The ivy contains a compound called pentadecacathechol, which binds to the skin and reacts with swollenness and inflammation of the infected area. The rash leads to the death of tissue.

The first time you come into contact with poison ivy, it seems like some kind of small rash. Most times, anything at all resulting from contact goes unnoticed. The delay, which takes about 48 hours to kick in, is what makes the rash unnoticeable. The recovery for a first time case of poison ivy is about four or five days. Though it may seem less serious, over time, things can get worse.

“It’s almost like your cells remember it,” Dr. Sheryl Fuller-Espie, assistant professor of biology and chair of the science department said. Indeed, the cells do have somewhat of a memory. Fuller-Espie says that the cells’ immunity is compromised after the first interaction.

After the first encounter, things get far more serious. It can even go as far as sedation or death. However, for either to occur, a heavy dosage would have to have occurred. Severe cases often involve swelling of the face, fever, nausea and chills. In some cases, the burning of the leaves breathed in can cause the swelling of the throat, which is very dangerous. In severe cases, anti-inflammatory steroids are prescribed.

Fuller-Espie warns student to be cautious around poison ivy. “Don’t brush by it,” she said, “and if you do, wash yourself and your clothing.” The best thing to do though is to keep yourself covered in clothing. If you are walking around in ivy wearing shorts, chances are you are going to contract the rash as soon as you step in.

If you do brush by the ivy and realize it, washing clothing immediately is recommended. What is most important though is the handling of the clothes. They must be handled delicately, so not to accidentally spread the rash all over your body. After taking care of the clothes, Fuller-Espie said the only thing to do now is use plenty of soap and to keep from scratching it. Scratching the infected areas of the skin is the cause of it spreading throughout the body. The most common place to worry about and keep clean is the spaces in between your fingers.

Fuller-Espie, like some students on campus, did not even realize there was a problem with poison ivy at Cabrini. While the irritation can become fatal in time, Fuller-Espie feels students do not need to panic over it, but should be aware that it is on campus and that they should be very cautious around it.

If you have any information on poison ivy on campus, it is recommended that you speak with grounds keeping and inform people you know of the areas on campus to avoid. Do not try to uproot the plant itself, as it takes special insecticide to kill the root and cannot just be pulled out.

How to avoid or control poison ivy:
Wash clothes and skin quickly and thoroughly
Do not scratch
Recognize and avoid known contaminated areas
Apply Calamine lotion
Consult a physician

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Ryan Mulloy

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