SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY, Calif. - Hikers enjoying a day out on the trails along the central coast have a new threat to watch out for--poison oak.
Heavy rains throughout the winter have caused a bloom of plants, including the Pacific Poison Oak. The leafy looking shrub gives off urushiol when damaged, the same allergen your skin absorbs when exposed to poison ivy.
Hikers should keep a close eye our for and avoid the plant altogether, which can grow to six feet tall. Their leaves typically appear on the plants in groups of three, a good rule to live by when it comes to avoiding plants like poison oak.
"They have a saying, 'if it has leaves of three, let it be,'" says Michael Blackwell, a physician's assistant at Pismo Beach Urgent Care.
Blackwell says emergency responders and fire crews fall victim to poison oak frequently because they spend large amounts of time in high grass and off designated trails. One of the easiest ways to avoid the plant is to do the same and stay on the path.
If you come in contact with the plant, wash the area with soap right away, along with your hands, and clothes as well.
"The resin (from the poison oak) can stay on our clothing for several days," says Blackwell. "Some if somebody else comes into contact with that clothing, they can actually have a reaction themselves."
Anti-itch creams will help, along with taking allergy medicine.
"You have an allergen on your skin that your body is reacting to, so antihistamines, benadryl at night can work."