Is Poison Ivy Contagious

Is Poison Ivy Contagious and Other Questions Itching for Attention

You have probably never really wondered, “Is poison ivy contagious?”  At first, this might seem like a ridiculous question.  Of course, poison ivy is not contagious.  After all, it is caused by contact with the poison ivy plant.  However, the question, “Is poison ivy contagious” is a little bit more complicated than it might at first.  This is because although you cannot transmit the condition caused by poison ivy directly by simply, say, sneezing on someone, it is possible to transmit it from person to person in other ways.

Poison Ivy 101

So, how exactly does poison ivy make you and me itchy when we are exposed to it?  You might be surprised to learn that the main irritant in poison ivy is actually not meant as a defense mechanism.  The irritant that causes our skin to become so itchy is actually just a resin that tends to coat the plant and provide it with nutrients.  Unfortunately for us, many people have allergies to resins and get some extreme forms of dermatitis when they are exposed to the chemical agents in these resins.  These allergies can be quite mild, barely causing the person any discomfort or bothersome, all depending on the individual idiosyncrasies of biology.

This resin that causes the allergic reaction that most of us experience doesn’t act right away, however.  When you first come into contact with the plant, you might not notice anything.  Perhaps your knee just scrapes up against it as you are trying to hike up the side of a steep hill where there is no path.  You might get some the resin on the kneepad of your pant leg and be none the worse for wear at first.  Then, however, once your reach the top, you might be winded and put your hands to your knee as you bend over to catch your breath.

Now the resin, located on your hand, sits there until you happen to scratch your back or cradle your head on your hands.  Within a couple of days, you get the rash at the spots where the resin made contact with your skin.  That is the typical sort of pattern.

Is Poison Ivy Contagious?

Once you have poison ivy, however, it does not mean that you will be spreading it to others.  If you rub your skin, even at the irritated spot, up against someone else’s skin, you will not “give them” poison ivy.  This is because the irritated skin itself does not contain any of the resins that cause the irritation, because they have usually already been washed out.  Thus, even if the person were to put the infected spot of skin into their mouths, you would still not transmit the skin irritation.

You could, however, in theory, spread the resin to other people.  For example, if you get some of the resin on your knee and someone puts his or her hand on your knee, they can get the resin as well as you.  The poison ivy resin does not distinguish between the individual that bumped into it and any other creature that happens to come into contact with it.  It is an equal opportunity irritant.


The best way to avoid getting poison ivy is to avoid coming into contact with it.  There are a few different ways to do this.  One is to learn what the plant looks like and to learn how to avoid it.  This is a necessity if your job forces you come into contact with this nasty plant.

Another way to avoid poison ivy is wear a protective layer of clothing and avoid putting your hands to any part of your body and to remove and wash your clothing as soon as you return to civilization.

These simple precautions should be enough to prevent most encounters with poison ivy.