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Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: Who gets a rash, and is it contagious?

Avoid areas where poisonous plants grow

So many people develop a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac that it’s important to avoid areas where these plants grow.

poison ivy warning sign

Poison ivy, oak, and sumac all contain an oil called urushiol (yur-oo-shee-aal). If you have an allergic reaction to this oil, you can develop a rash. Because most people are allergic to this oil, just about everyone who comes into contact with it develops a rash.

The more exposure you have to these plants, the more severe your allergic reaction tends to be. Some people who work outdoors must leave their jobs. Others need to stop a favorite outdoor pastime because they develop such a severe allergic reaction.

You’ll also find a few people who seem immune. They never develop a rash. That doesn’t mean that they will never get a rash from one of these plants. Our bodies change, so it’s always wise to avoid touching these plants.

Can babies get a rash from poison ivy, oak, or sumac?

Anyone can have an allergic reaction to one of these plants, even a baby.

The rash looks the same in children and adults.

If you’re seeing a poison-ivy type rash on your child’s skin for the first time, dermatologists recommend that you take your child to your healthcare provider. Some health conditions can cause a rash that looks similar to a poison ivy rash.

Can you get a rash from one of these plants in the winter?

Yes. These plants are poisonous year-round. Touching any part of these plants, including the roots, can cause a rash, even during the winter.

Can you get a poison ivy rash from someone else?

The rash isn’t contagious. If someone has a rash, touching that rash won’t cause a rash on your skin. You can develop a rash, if you touch the person’s skin or clothing while oil from one of these plants is still on it.

Can you get a poison ivy rash from a dog or cat?

Yes, the oil that causes this rash can stick to just about anything, including fur.

If your pet has brushed up against one of these plants, you can get the oil that causes the rash on your skin when you touch your pet. This could lead to a rash.

To prevent getting a rash this way, bathe your pet anytime you suspect it has been near poisonous plants. Just be sure to wear rubber gloves while rounding up and bathing your pet.

You don’t have to worry about your pet getting a rash. Most pets are not allergic to these plants.

If you live in an area where you or your pet comes into contact with these plants often, you can take steps to prevent a rash. You’ll find out what to do at: Poison ivy, oak, or sumac: How can I prevent a rash?

Getty Images

Centers for Disease Control (CDC). “Poisonous plants: Recommendations.” Page lasted updated 6/1/2018. Last accessed 6/5/2019.

Kunin A. "Poison ivy, oak, and sumac: Don’t let them ruin your great outdoors.” In: The DERMAdoctor Skinstruction Manual. Simon & Schuster. United States, 2005: 202-8.

McGovern TW. “Dermatoses due to plants.” In: Bolognia JL, et al. Dermatology. (second edition). Mosby Elsevier, Spain, 2008: 255-6.

Vaught CK, Mold JW. “Poison ivy: How effective are available treatments?” J Fam Pract. 2016;65(11):801-9.