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Is Poison Oak Contagious?

Many people wonder if poison oak is contagious or not. This article provides you with the answer, along with information on the symptoms, causes, and precautionary measures for rashes caused by poison oak.
Kalpana Kumari
Last Updated: Apr 22, 2018
A skin rash due to poison oak is an allergic response to an oil present in and on the plant. This oil is called urushiol, and is found in all parts of the plant. It is present in the sap of roots, stems, leaves, and berries. It is also present on the surface of the entire plant. Nearly 85% of the human population is allergic to urushiol, and hence the poison oak shrub. By touching the plant itself you can come in contact with this oil, and can develop an allergic reaction.
What are the Symptoms of Poison Oak?
Mostly, people develop itchy pustules as a natural reaction against urushiol. The sensitivity of your skin determines the intensity of allergic response. Poison oak symptoms can begin within 24-48 hours after physical contact. The symptoms can, at times, take as long as 5-6 days to appear. The most common symptoms of poison oak are:
  • Itchy skin rash in the form of bumps and blisters
  • Blisters finally break open, ooze, and then dry or crust over
  • Swelling in the contact area
  • Red irregularly shaped spots that can either be flat or raised
  • Sudden onset of intense itching
How Do You Get Poison Oak?
The oil, urushiol is present in the resin of the plants, and is easily transferred from plants to other objects through physical contact. It can spread through toys, shoes, clothing, tools, and animals that have come in contact with it. Even the smoke from the burning oak plant has urushiol in it. Therefore, you should avoid touching the objects which you suspect to have this oil on it. If poison oak plants are there in your vicinity, wear long pants, and full-sleeved shirts to avoid any contact with them. Wash your hands, garments, and shoes as soon as possible after coming back home. This would prevent you from coming into physical contact with its oil. In case you have touched the poison oak plant, wash the area of contact with soap thoroughly. Washing the skin with ordinary soap at regular intervals of three hours is known to be effective in the prevention of allergies. In case you have developed the allergy despite taking the above-mentioned precautions and care, consult a medical professional immediately for proper treatment.
Is Poison Oak Contagious?
You might be curious to know whether itching or scratching the rash spreads it. To your relief, poison oak is not contagious. Only the substance urushiol can spread cause rashes. Once the oil from the plant's resin has bonded to the victim's skin, it cannot spread. Blisters and pustules are a natural reaction by the body against it, and the fluid that oozes out from the blotches does not contain urushiol, and hence, cannot spread it. However, scratching the rash is not recommended as an open blister is more prone to infection.
The oil that has come from the original physical contact with the poison oak plant, spreads on the skin for the first two or three days. His could be exacerbated by sweating. Hence wash the affected area with cold water repeatedly. After three days, there should be no new formation of dermatitis rash. If some blister formation takes place after a gap of three days, then re-exposure to the oil through pets, clothing, and other objects is its most probable reason.
The oil washes off fairly easily from non-biological surfaces, hence any surfaces or tools and implements that may have come in contact with this plant must be washed thoroughly. When weeding the plant out, one must always wear protective rubber gloves. Contrary to popular belief, a reaction against this oil does not impart immunity to the individual against future instances. If anything, every subsequent allergic reaction is actually worse than the previous one. Hence one must immediately consult a doctor when contact with this plant is suspected.
Poison oak does not spread from person to person unless urushiol is present in the medium of contact. The presence of this oil is what makes the condition contagious, and not the rash. In case of any contact with the plant, wash your exposed body part, garments, and shoes as a precautionary measure.