Thursday, October 24, 2019

Poison Ivy: Part II

Last week we talked about poison ivy and some of the ways that you can be exposed to it.  This week, we'll talk about how to prevent a poison ivy rash, and how to treat it once you have it.

How can you prevent a poison ivy rash?
  • Poison IvyAvoid the plants - Learn to identify the plants in all seasons.  Try to stay on cleared pathways when hiking.  If you are camping, check for poison ivy before pitching your tent.
  • Wear protective clothing - Wear long sleeves, long pants, and vinyl gloves when needed to protect your skin.
  • Use a barrier cream - There are some over-the-counter products that can be applied to the skin to act as a barrier between your skin and the poison ivy oil.
  • Remove or kill plants - In your yard, use an herbicide to get rid of the plants or pull them out of the ground, including the roots, while wearing protective clothing of course.  Afterward, remove your protective clothing and put it in the washing machine, then immediately wash your hands.
  • Wash your skin - Within 30 minutes after exposure, use soap and water to wash thoroughly to get the oil off your skin.  Be sure to scrub under your fingernails with a brush as well.
  • Wash your pet - If you think your pet has been in poison ivy, use some long rubber gloves to give your pet a good bath with pet shampoo.
  • Clean objects that might be contaminated - Wash clothing in the washing machine.  Actually put the clothes into the washing machine before you get into the shower.  If you pick them up after your shower, you will contaminate your skin again, and will need to take another shower.  Don't let your contaminated clothes touch any surface inside your home, other than the inside of the washing machine!  Wash shoes and shoelaces if you have walked in poison ivy.  Wash any garden tools or camping gear that may be contaminated.  The oil stays potent for years, so if you put something away now without washing it, when you get it out next summer or even 2 or 3 summers from now, it can still cause you to get a poison ivy rash!  
How is a poison ivy rash treated?
The rash will typically last 7-14 days.  Most people can treat a poison ivy rash at home with good results.
Here is what I usually recommend:
  • Hydrocortisone 1% cream or ointment, applied up to 4 times a day 
  • Calamine lotion as needed
  • Antihistamines by mouth, such as Benadryl, as needed
  • Soak in an oatmeal bath
  • Use cool, wet compresses on the area, 15 minutes at a time, multiple times a day.
If you have an extensive rash covering a large area, with lots of blisters, or you think you may have developed a secondary bacterial infection at the site of the rash, you should see your doctor for possible prescription treatment.  Your doctor may prescribe a stronger steroid cream or a steroid that you take by mouth for 5-7 days.  If there is evidence of a secondary infection, an antibiotic may be needed.
Use this link to see pictures of poison ivy
If you have any questions about poison ivy, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Friday, October 18, 2019

Poison Ivy

We may not typically think of poison ivy this time of year.  It really seems like more of a summer worry.  However, it's the time in which we are usually doing a lot of yard clean up.  You can be exposed to poison ivy raking leaves, picking up brush, stacking firewood, or even bringing firewood in for a fire.  I thought this was a good time to talk about poison ivy.  When you are not really thinking about it, you are more likely to be exposed.
What is a poison ivy rash?
A poison ivy rash is caused by an allergic reaction to an oily substance called urushiol.  This reaction is called contact dermatitis.  This oil is in the leaves, stems, and even the roots of poison ivy, as well as poison oak, and poison sumac.  This is the most common allergic reaction in the U.S., with at least 85% of Americans being allergic to this oil to some degree, and about 10-15% of people being extremely allergic to it.  The rash affects approximately 50 million Americans each year.  You can also develop an allergy to this oil at any time in your life, so just because you have not broken out from poison ivy in the past, does not mean that you will not have a reaction the next time you come in contact with it.
The rash has a very classic appearance, with redness initially, followed by swelling, then blisters.  The rash is associated with severe itching.  The rash can range from mild to severe, depending on how much of the oil gets on your skin and how allergic you are.
How do you recognize that a plant is poison ivy, oak, or sumac?
You have probably heard the saying "leaves of three, let it be."  Poison ivy and poison oak both typically have three leaves.  However, poison sumac typically has five or seven leaves.  Poison ivy is a vine with a fuzzy appearance to the vine itself, but poison oak and sumac are shrubs.  These plants grow everywhere in the United States, except Hawaii, Alaska, and some deserts in Nevada.  They change colors in the fall, just like other leaves do, so they may not look the way you expect this time of year.  Follow this link to see some pictures of the plants:
How do you get a poison ivy rash?
If you come into contact with the urushiol oil, you can develop the allergic skin reaction.  The oil is colorless and odorless, so you don't really notice that you have anything on you.  It is sticky though, not sticky enough to make you feel sticky, but it really sticks to your skin.  This oil is also very potent.  The amount contained on the head of a pin can cause 500 people to have a rash!

Here are the different ways that you may come into contact with the oil.
  • Direct contact - Touching the stems, leaves, roots, or berries of the plants
  • Touching an object contaminated with the oil - It may be on your shoes after a walk, on the sleeve of your shirt or jacket, on the fur of your dog or cat, on tools that you used in the yard, on wood that was cut and stacked for the fireplace.  The oil can stay active on a surface for several years without losing its potency.  
  • Inhaling smoke from burning plants - This can irritate or even cause damage to your nasal passages or lungs.
Is poison ivy contagious?
The poison ivy rash is NOT contagious.  If you have a rash from poison ivy, the rash itself is not contagious.  The fluid in the blisters does not contain the urushiol oil and it will not spread the rash.  Just remember that it can be spread if you touch a person's skin when they still have the oil from the plant on their skin, or if you touch their clothing before it has been adequately washed.
Next week we'll talk about ways to prevent and treat the poison ivy rash.

If you have any questions about poison ivy, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor

Saturday, October 12, 2019

When Should You Get Your Flu Shot?

Last week, public health officials urged Americans to get their flu shot early this year.  Let's talk about the reason for the warning, and whether you should get a flu shot.

You may not realize that influenza viruses are constantly mutating and changing.  Because of this, the strain of influenza virus that is common this year, may be very different from the strain that was common during last year's flu season.  This is why a new influenza vaccine, or flu shot, is necessary each year.

How is the flu shot designed or selected each year?

Flu Shots
More than 100 influenza centers in over 100 countries conduct year-round surveillance for influenza.  This involves testing thousands of influenza virus samples from patients all over the world.  The laboratories then send representative viruses to five World Health Organization (WHO) laboratories, one of which is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

The flu vaccine is then designed to protect against the three or four influenza viruses that research indicates are most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season.  In the United States, the FDA makes the final decision about which strains are included in the flu shots that are given in the U.S., with consideration given to recommendations made by the WHO, based on worldwide research.

Why are officials recommending early flu shots this year?

It may be no surprise that the Southern Hemisphere's flu season is about 6 months earlier than our flu season in the Northern Hemisphere.  Influenza season is typically during fall and winter.  Because the Southern Hemisphere experiences their fall and winter, and their flu season, during our spring and summer, we often look at the trends seen in Australia's flu season, to help us plan for our own.
While their flu season does not always predict the severity of our own, it can certainly provide an indication of what's to come for us.  This year, Australia's flu season started early, and is considered to be one of the worst influenza seasons that they have ever seen.

This makes our public health officials worry about our upcoming flu season.  In fact, there have already been some U.S. locations reporting scattered cases of influenza as early as September, which is considered early for our flu season.  There have even been 2 reported deaths from influenza recently.

Why does it matter if you get your flu shot?

Although the flu vaccine is not 100% effective at preventing influenza, there is research showing that the vaccine reduces the severe and sometimes even deadly complications from the flu, and can protect newborns whose mothers received the flu vaccine while pregnant.  The effectiveness at preventing disease varies from year to year, depending on how accurate the predictions were for the strains of flu virus expected.  So even though it may not prevent every case of the flu, it does prevent a number of infections, it does decrease the severity of the disease, and it will save lives.

Although last year's season, 2018-2019 was not too bad, in the 2017-2018 flu season in the U.S., the flu killed at least 80,000 people. 

Who should get a flu shot?

The CDC recommends everyone ages 6 months and older get a flu shot every flu season, including people with chronic health conditions as well as healthy people.  It is especially important for some people to get vaccinated, namely people who are at risk of developing serious complications, like pneumonia, if they get sick with the flu. This includes:
  • People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic heart or lung disease, and the people who live with or care for them.
  • Pregnant women
  • People 65 years and older
Who should NOT get a flu shot?
  • Children younger than 6 months of age
  • People with severe, life-threatening allergies to any component of the flu vaccine
  • Some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a doctor, including
    • Those with an allergy to eggs
    • Anyone who had Guillain-Barre Syndrome within 6 weeks of getting the flu vaccine previously
    • Anyone who has a moderate to severe illness with a fever should likely wait until they recover before getting the shot
When should you get your flu shot?

I usually recommend a flu shot by November 1st, but this year we should all get our flu shots early.  I would talk with your doctor or pharmacist about getting your flu shot as soon as you can.

If you have any questions about flu shots, please log into your account and send us your question. We are here to help.

Dr. Anita Bennett MD - Health Tip Content Editor