Ask the doctors
Q. I'm very allergic to poison ivy. My spouse currently has a bad poison ivy rash that he got while trimming some bushes in our yard. I'm afraid I'm going to get a rash from him. Is it contagious?
A. Good news: poison ivy rashes are not contagious. You will get a rash from poison ivy only if you come into contact with urushiol oil, which is the plant oil in poison ivy that triggers the rash. In addition, a poison ivy rash, even one with open blisters, won't spread to other areas of the body. The rash only occurs on parts of the body that were actually exposed to the plant oil. Poison ivy rashes can appear to spread if urushiol oil is trapped under your fingernails and you scratch an itch. While you can't get a rash from coming from your spouse, you can get it from clothing or other items that have the plant oil on them. For example, the clothes your spouse was wearing that came into contact with the poison ivy plant. Poison ivy oil can cling to garden tools or even pet fur. The oil from poison ivy is known to linger. According to the FDA, it can stick around on surfaces, sometimes for years, until it is washed away using water or rubbing alcohol. So be certain that all surfaces that are potentially contaminated are cleaned thoroughly to reduce your risk.
— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Hye-Chun Hur, M.D., M.P.H.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch
Image: © epantha/Getty Images
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