Got a poison ivy rash? If so, you're probably wondering if this ailment is contagious. The answer is yes—at least somewhat. There's always a danger that poison ivy could spread to others. However, the method in which it's typically transferred is quite different from what you'd expect.

The Facts

If you're worried about poison ivy, the good news is that you don't have to become a victim of this shiny three-leaf plant. The best way to protect yourself and your family is to understand exactly how the rash spreads and how to stop it in its tracks.

When you come into contact with poison ivy, you'll probably get an allergic reaction called contact dermatitis, which consists of itchy, fluid-filled blisters. These can appear anytime from within a few hours of contact up to a few days (or even a few weeks, in some cases). Many people assume that once you contract the rash by scratching the itchy blisters, this can cause them to break and leak the fluid they contain, thereby causing the rash to spread to other parts of your body, as well as to other people.

Contrary to popular belief, the blisters themselves aren't contagious. Rather, it's the oily residue of the poison ivy plant itself that spreads the rash. If you have any of this oil under your fingertips, on your clothing, shoes, or even on your pet, and it comes into contact with skin, it causes the poison ivy rash. You'll be surprised to know that if you burn a patch of poison ivy, the oil can also be released through the smoke. Worse yet, it can even last on surfaces for as long as a year, causing the danger of exposure to linger long after the fact.

Take Action

It sounds pretty commonplace, but the best way to stop the spread of poison ivy is to avoid coming into contact with it in the first place. If you do become exposed, you'll want to act quickly to minimize your reaction. Here are the steps to follow:

  • Wear long sleeves and pants to cover up as much of your skin as you can. Poison ivy can occur almost anywhere, although it's particularly prevalent in fields and along road sides. Also, beware of shrubs or vines with leaves that consist of three smaller leaflets. These leaflets can vary from a greenish yellow color in the spring to a deeper yellow or red by the onset of fall.
  • If you do come into contact with poison ivy, thoroughly wash the area with soap and water for 10 minutes in order to remove it completely from your skin.
  • Be sure to repeat the washing process several times. You'll also have to wash all of your clothing and shoes to remove any oil that could remain.
  • Soak in an oatmeal bath for relief if you do get a poison ivy rash.
  • Spread anti-itch and anti-inflammatory creams on the affected skin to help soothe itching and swelling.
  • Talk to your doctor about using a steroid cream or oral steroids for more serious cases. These can be necessary to treat extreme symptoms.

Poison ivy rashes can last for up to two or three weeks, so be prepared. Keep in mind that most people with an allergy to poison ivy are also sensitive to poison oak and poison sumac.


American Academy of Pediatrics/Healthy Children

American Academy of Dermatology (AAD)

Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center

Medline Plus