RESEARCH: Leaves of three, let ’em be

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If you like this heat, be forewarned: You’re not alone. State and national parks teem with hikers, campers, and nature-lovers.

If you go, take care not to bring home an unwanted guest. As summer temperatures continue to set heat records, poison oak and poison ivy are loving it.

Using the basic principle that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fosters plant growth, two studies in 2006 at Duke University and University of Georgia compared poison plants grown in historically normal atmospheric conditions with those grown in an enhanced-CO2 atmosphere. Unsurprisingly, the enhanced-CO2 ivy grew faster, bigger, and itchier; researchers concluded as climate change increases, so will poison ivy.

According to national observatory documentation since 2015, CO2 levels are breaking all-time records.

Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas (a chemical which traps heat like a greenhouse) and a major contributor to global warming. Atmospheric greenhouse gases have steadily increased since the Industrial Revolution.

Poison ivy and poison oak have a contagious, rash-causing chemical called urushiol. Common in wooded areas, they’re often encountered by hikers, campers, and firefighters. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 80 to 90 percent of people are allergic to them. It takes only one nanogram of urushiol to cause an itchy, blistering rash; a typical encounter involves 100 ng.

Poison ivy and oak are rather pretty; leaves can be red, orange, or green with three leaves on a stem. A catchy phrase to remember is “leaves of three — let them be.”

If you’re exposed, the U.S. Forest Service recommends immediately washing with lukewarm water and soap. Over-the-counter products such as calamine lotion and prescription remedies may help. Most cases last up to two weeks and are benign, but if symptoms (rash, swelling) first appear in four to 12 hours instead of the normal 24, seek medical attention.

For more information: https://bit.ly/2uO8AY7

Be safe out there.

•••

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who’s too fussy to camp out. Email: Sholeh@cdapress.com

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