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The bugs are gone

BURLINGTON -- Summer may be starting to wind down, but the risk of exposure to poison ivy can continue well into the winter months. Poison ivy grows throughout Vermont, and its not just the leaves that are toxic. A person can get a rash by coming into contact with the oily residue from any part of the poison ivy plant, including the berries and roots. The rash can also be caused by touching anything, such as gardening tools, that came into contact with the plant and still has the residue on it.

Poison ivy is definitely something to be on the lookout for, said Gayle Finkelstein, poison prevention educator at Fletcher Allen Health Care and the Northern New England Poison Center. It grows in woods and fields and along roadsides and riverbeds. It can be a high-climbing woody vine, a small low-growing shrub, or ground cover. Just remember the rule: Leaves of three, let them be.

Poison ivy is distinguished by three thin, pointy, and shiny leaves. The shape and texture of poison ivy leaves can vary, though, as can the color. The leaves are reddish in spring, green in summer, and orange, red or bronze in the fall.

The main symptom of poison ivy is a rash, which can appear up to a week after contact with the plant. The rash can vary in severity and usually starts with itching, redness and swelling, and it is sometimes followed by tiny pimples or blisters.

The best way to treat poison ivy, said Finkelstein, is to immediately wash the exposed skin with cold water and soap. Wash contaminated surfaces with rubbing alcohol, and clean all affected clothes and shoes with hot water and soap. If you have trouble breathing, notice a swelling in your throat, or feel dizzy or weak, call 9-1-1.

Scratching the itch of the poison ivy wont spread the disease, but it could leave scarring on your skin. Its also important to know that poison ivy is not contagious.

One last tip, says Finkelstein, is to never burn poison ivy plants to get rid of them. The smoke can cause serious health problems, she says, including irritation to the eyes, skin, nose and throat and difficulty breathing.

For more information on poison ivy, contact the Northern New England Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 or visit www.nnepc.org .

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