You don't have to be doing lawn pest control to come face-to-face with poison ivy. Anytime you are working outside, even just treating around foundations, you should keep an eye out for poison ivy. If you re working in an overgrown site that could have poison ivy, wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves. Poison ivy is a plant mimic and can be a small plant with just a few leaves growing in among the groundcover, or a bushy shrub, or in the eastern U.S., it can be a mature, ropy vine growing up a tree.
The key to its identification is that each true leaf is actually made up of 3 leaflets. Remember the saying, "Leaves of three, let it be!" Usually the leaf edges are irregularly notched or slightly lobed, but sometimes not. Mature plants may have small flowers or whitish berries. Leaves turn red-orange in the fall. Poison ivy occurs across the U.S. and into Canada, except for California, Alaska, and Hawaii.
Two other plants that can cause similar skin irritation are poison oak and poison sumac. Poison oak also has 3 leaflets that are oak-leaf shaped and occurs mainly in the Southeast and on the West Coast of the U.S. and Canada. Poison sumac is a shrub that has a compound leaf with 7-13 paired leaflets. It's a problem mainly along the Mississippi River and in boggy areas of the Southeast.
When poison ivy leaves or other plant parts are touched, bruised, or even burned, they release an irritating (but unseen) oil that causes an itchy, red rash, often with red bumps, blisters, or swelling. The rash may take a few days to appear and can last 1-3 weeks. You can get a reaction to poison ivy even if you never touched the plant by touching tools, shoes, pants lets, gloves, or even a pet that had contact with the plant.
What if I Touch Poison Ivy? - (1) Immediately wash the affected area with soap and warm water, rinsing frequently. Until you can wash, avoid touching your face or any parts of your body or clothing. (2) If contact was on shoes, clothing, or gloves, carefully remove them, touching them as little as possible. Wash them ASAP with soap and hot water, separately from other clothing. (3) Wash affected tools or equipment with a diluted bleach solution while wearing rubber gloves. wash up thoroughly after touching the affected item. (4) Relieve itching with calamine lotion, hydrocortisone cream, or wet compresses. For severe cases, especially if on face or genitals, see a physician.
There is always a technician who brags that he or she never gets poison ivy. Just like insect stings or bites, sensitivity can develop with increased exposure. That unprotected technician may be surprised to end up with a full-blown, itchy case of poison ivy!