Letters: Poison Ivy

Listeners react to our story about poison ivy. Robert Siegel and Michele Norris read from listeners' e-mails.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Time now for your letters. We heard yesterday on the program about poison ivy and how it's been growing larger and spreading faster than ever before. Even the oil the plant produces, called urushiol, that causes an itchy rash when it touches the skin has become more toxic.

I talked to Dr. Lewis Ziska, plant physiologist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Research Service about why this is happening. Several of you were grateful for the conversation, but some also took issue with something we said, that poison ivy is contagious.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Carolyn Kent(ph) of Greencastle, Pennsylvania writes this: I am a pediatrician and spend a lot of time trying to convince patients that poison ivy rash is not contagious, and now you've announced that the rash is contagious. The rash is a contact dermatitis, and it is not spread from person to person, not contagious.

Well, we did ask Dr. Ziska if the oil, urushiol, is contagious, only that question and answer did not survive the editing process. Here's what he said.

Dr. LEWIS ZISKA (Plant Physiologist, Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture): It's not contagious once it's been absorbed into your body. Essentially, it's non-contagious. If you have it on your hands, if you've just recently come into contact with it and you touch someone else's hand before it's been absorbed, then yes, you can spread it that way. If you have a pet that's run into it, for example, and you touch your pet right after it's been run into, then yes, you can spread it that way.

NORRIS: In addition to that clarification, we also have a correction to make thanks to many of you who were listening closely yesterday. At issue, a pair of Sandys. In our story about gender-switching roles in Hollywood, we said that the actress Sandy Dennis played the role of Peter Pan. Well, it wasn't actually Sandy Dennis but Sandy Duncan, as well as Mary Martin, who played the role of Peter Pan on stage. Apologies. We must have had our heads in Never-Never Land.

SIEGEL: Keep your letters coming. You can write to us at npr.org. Just click on contact us at the bottom of the page.

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