Is Poison Oak Contagious?

Can poison oak spread from one person to another? After you have showered and washed with soap and water, can you spread it by touching the infected area?

The myths and misinformation about poison oak, poison ivy and poison sumac sometimes seem more commonplace than the plants themselves. That may be because so many people have had anecdotal — if not entirely accurate — experience with the rash.

The answer to both your questions is no. You won’t get the poison ivy reaction (poison oak and poison sumac work the same way) by touching someone else’s rash. And you can’t spread it over your own body by touching the bumps.

The rash is not an “infected area.” Rather, the rash is contact dermatitis — the immune system’s reaction to contact with the poison ivy oil, called urushiol. The little blisters do not contain any urushiol.

It’s understandable that people would draw the wrong conclusions. The rash may appear to spread after you touch it, but that’s just a coincidence. What’s really happening is that you are continuing to expose your skin to an unknown source of urushiol. When your family, friends or pets go out romping in the native shrubs, they may brush up against poison ivy leaves. The oil easily rubs off onto hair, skin, animal fur, clothes and shoes.

The oil stays there until the dog is bathed, the clothes are laundered or the oil becomes inactive, which could take months. You pet the dog or touch the clothes and pick up the urushiol on your fingers, from which you’re likely to spread it elsewhere on your body.

Unless you wash within a couple of minutes, it’s just a matter of time before the immune reaction occurs. It usually takes about 12 to 48 hours for the reaction to cause that tingly feeling you get just before the bumps emerge, launching a couple of very itchy weeks.

The information provided on Health Search Online is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.