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Opinions of Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Columnist: Melissa Martin

Vengeance of the vine and the bush

My nemesis returned again. “Go away!” I shouted. But, this enemy is just about as powerful as Kryptonite to me.

During childhood, its tenacious tentacles would tag me on hikes through the woods or while picking wild berries. Or in my rural backyard while pulling weeds.

Oatmeal baths, rubbing alcohol, bleach diluted with water, vinegar. These concoctions would only soothe the beast for a brief time. “I’ll be back,” it snickered. Home remedies didn’t work. Back in the day, calamine lotion was the go-to, but it didn’t work for me.

And so for myriad years, I avoided its hideout. “No! I won’t go there, too dangerous.”

And then my bravery bubbled up (or my seeping stupidity). Using double plastic bags over my hands, I challenged it to a duel. Losing, I isolated for 3 weeks without venturing outside due to the wounds. “You win,” I complained. “I’m no match for your evil power.”

Its sting left an itchy red rash on my skin—hives and blisters. Oh! The agony of the itchiness, swelling, and bursting blisters. This green monster robs you of rest, steals your sleep, and makes you as grouchy as a grizzly bear.

And so I used caution to fight against it. With gloved hands, long sleeves, boots, and a hat, I pulled it. But to no avail—it still bit me.

And so I used chemicals instead of pulling it up by the roots. I sprayed and sprayed and sprayed. A well-known saying is, “Leaves of three, let them be.” But it’s a sneaky creature for those of us with a severe allergic reaction.

Many people get a rash from poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac in the USA. This rash is caused by oil found in the plants called urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all). The oil is a cunning culprit. About 60 percent to 80 percent of all people get a reaction
to urushiol.

The African poison ivy (Smodingium argutum or pain bush) is a southern African shrub or medium-sized tree in the Anacardiaceae. It has properties comparable to the American poison ivy as its sap contains heptadecyl catechols that are toxic to the skin.

Magic potions only brought temporary relief—then I went to the emergency room and was prescribed corticosteroid pills. That’s how I spelled relief. A respect for poison ivy has replaced my fear.

The best way to treat poison ivy is to avoid touching it in the first place. Oh, that advice will surely work. Folks do gardening, camping, hiking, mountain vacations, nature walks, fishing, and picnics in wooded areas. Prevention is the best option, but unexpected things happen in the great outdoors.

Teach poison ivy safety to kids whether you live in Africa or the USA. Show identifying pictures and point out live plants. Teach them how to identify African and American poison ivy so they can steer clear. Wash skin and scrub under fingernails right away with soap and water when encountered. Wash exposed clothes, gloves, and shoes. If you have widespread rash, face or genital involvement, or signs of infected skin, it’s time to see your doctor.

Enjoy your activities in the woods, jungles, and parks! And avoid the vine and bush with a vengeance when you can.