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Watch out for poisonous plants after increase in calls to the poison center due to foraging mishaps

Hiking boots

FOR RELEASE: July 28, 2021

SYRACUSE, N.Y. – If you plan to go out in the woods this summer, we believe poison ivy is the one plant you need to know how to recognize. The three-leaf stem can cause a rash, swollen skin, even blisters and Poison Ivyof course the signature severe itching. Our poison center specialists are experts in all things poison and can help you stay healthy if you encounter an unknown plant. Our best advice is to be prepared before you head out by dressing properly and saving our number: 1-800-222-1222.

“If you are going to be off a trail, I advise you to wear long pants, socks, and good hiking shoes. Don’t forget that those should be washed when you leave the woods,” says Dr. Michael Hodgman, medical toxicologist at the Upstate New York Poison Center, “It’s the resin on the leaves that can give you a rash and if you touch your shoes, you can spread that resin to your arms and face and you could develop a rash in places you didn’t even know may have touched poison ivy.”

If you know you have touched poison ivy:

  • Wash the area thoroughly (ideally within 10 minutes) with soap and water
  • Make sure to wash your hands and underneath nails

Besides common poisonous plants your skin and clothes can encounter, our poison center saw a large increase in the number of calls in 2020 for people foraging for edible plants, picking the wrong kind, swallowing them, and becoming sick. In 2020, we received double the number of calls between March to May for questions about plant toxicity compared to each of the previous five years.

Dr. Vince Calleo, medical director of the Upstate New York Poison Center, says, “I think the rise we saw in cases was partially because people had extra time during the pandemic. Because there was not a lot they could do inside, they explored the great outdoors. More people started to try their hand at foraging to look for various edible forms of plant life and unfortunately, without experience and expertise, we saw a number of calls for people getting sick from eating unknown plants. My personal advice is always to be cautious when out in the woods, if you don’t know what it is, don’t touch it and certainly don’t eat it.”

The Upstate New York Poison Center encourages you to watch this video to see the plants in question and hear from our experts:

Remember we are available 24/7 to help with any symptoms or questions you might have if you come in contact with an unknown plant. We can provide advice, like how best to use topical creams to soothe any itching, how much of an oral antihistamine to take, or if you require immediate medical attention, we can point you in the right direction.

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

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About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.