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Is Poison Oak Contagious?

One of the most interesting questions surrounding poison oak is whether or not it is contagious. While some people swear by the fact that it can spread from one person to another, others understand how poison oak works and how people actually get it. We want to make sure you have a clear understanding of this, especially if you’re dealing with the situation right now.

The Urushiol – Urushiol is the type of oil that is found in poison oak trees, plants, shrubs, and bushes. They can also be found on vines and roots as well. If poison oak plants didn’t have the oil present, you wouldn’t be allergic to it, unless you were allergic to plants in general. If you end up with a rash, it’s because the oil has been absorbed into the skin. There are four different ways this can occur:

Contact with the plant – If you like to head out into the wilderness, any type of contact with the plant is going to cause a rash. Direct contact is the second worst scenario that can take place. However, you can reduce the overall risk of this happening by knowing what the plant looks like and avoiding it at all costs.

Pet Problems – If you take a dog out with you to play in the woods, it’s also possible for them to have direct contact with the urushiol oil from the poison oak. If the oil gets on their coat, you could actually pet them and get the oil on your body. This is why it’s important to bathe your pet after allowing them to play outdoors.

Contact with Clothing – You could also end up with poison oak because the urushiol ends up on shoes, boots, hiking equipment, a stick being used to move plants, or anything else you have with you. We’ve even heard stories of people getting the oil on their sunglasses and transferring it from their glasses, to their hands, to a part of their body where a rash begins to develop.

This is why its a good idea to wash everything after being around poison oak plants.

Inhalation – The worst way to contract poison oak is by inhaling the smoke from burning poison oak leaves. It’s the only non-contact situation, but it can also be the most detrimental. Since poison oak can last for weeks, dealing with an internal situation requires a trip to your family physician. They will have to prescribe medication in order to remove it from the inside-out. After all, when this occurs it gets in the bloodstream.

Transferring Poison Oak

Listen, poison oak is not contagious. You cannot transfer the rash from one person to another. Even if you scratch the rash and then touch your friend on the arm, there isn’t going to be any miraculous rash form on that location. However, while “poison oak” is not contagious, the urushiol oil can be transferred from one person to another. If you touch your friend with the oil on your hands, it’s possible for them to end up with a rash.

Earlier we discussed the four ways you can end up getting the oil on you. The preventative measures are very important, because it reduces the risk of getting any urushiol on you. For instance, it is possible to have the oil on your backpack. It can stay there for as long as a year, and if you touch the backpack and then your body, it’s still possible to get poison oak.

Preventative Measures

If you’re dealing with a poison oak situation right now, here are a few ways to help:

1. Showering – Even if you have urushiol oil on you, taking a shower can make all the difference. Just lather up your body soap and be thorough. If you already have poison oak, you can’t remove oil from the rash areas, because the rash doesn’t produce any of it. However, running the affected area under hot water has been known to provide temporary relief for 4 to 5 hours at a time.

2. Washing Clothes and Items – If you’ve been in contact with poison oak plants, take the time to wash your clothes in hot water. This should be done immediately after being outdoors. It eliminates the chance of your spouse or roommate from picking up the clothes and getting oil on themselves. Unless you plan on throwing them out or isolating them in a bag until they can be washed.

3. Mud Packs – This is not something we’ve tried personally, but mud packs are supposed to remove the oil from the skin. Even though it sounds helpful, there is no oil in the rash, so it’s hard to believe this is very beneficial. The only way we see this working is if you get it on your arm, wash the arm immediately, and then place a mud pack on it.

The Itch

Poison oak wouldn’t be so bad if the infected areas didn’t itch so badly. One thing to understand is the body’s histamine levels are what cause the itching. This is why hot water is helpful, because it allows the body to release the histamines. However, it’s a catch-22, because cold water will close the pores and allow the poison oak to be washed off. The best way to decide is by knowing when to use each choice.

A cold shower will work best if you have the oil on your body and the rash hasn’t developed yet. When the pores are closed, the urushiol can be washed off the body, even though some of it might have gotten through already.

In the end, it’s all about having the right amount of knowledge regarding poison oak. Understanding that the oil is the main culprit can help you reduce the size of your rashes, and possibly remove the issue if you get to it soon enough.