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Poison oak in full color

Poison oak leaves are a bronze color when they open, then turn bright green, yellow-green and reddish-green as spring progresses into summer. By fall, they’ve turned red or pink. In Los Padres National Forest, they're seemingly everywhere.

Poison oak is rampant throughout the mountains of Santa Barbara County as a result of the hot weather expected through the fall, and it can pose a serious threat particularly to those who are allergic to the plant, according to the California Poison Control System.

The CPCS last week issued a warning for people who are out hiking in wildlands to avoid contact with the plant, which can be found growing on grassy hillsides and in forests from sea level to the mountain peaks.

Known by the scientific name Toxicodendron diversilobum, poison oak can be a dense leafy shrub or appear as a vine, often growing among other plants or climbing up the trunks of trees.

Its leaves normally consist of three leaflets, with the stalk of the central leaflet longer than the other two, of glossy or dull green that turns to red as fall approaches.

“In addition to coming in contact with the plant itself, you can contract poison oak by touching clothing, shoes, gloves, pets and tools,” said Dr. Rais Vohra, medical director for the Fresno/Madera Division of CPCS. “Even smoke from burning plants can cause irritation.”

Vohra said allergic individuals exposed to poison oak will develop a rash in one to six days that itches, then forms water blisters.

To avoid contracting the rash, Vohra recommended wearing boots gloves and long pants when hiking; staying on trails away from brush; and washing all clothing, tools and, especially, pets that may have been exposed to the plant.

If exposed to poison oak, wash the area thoroughly with lukewarm water and apply rubbing alcohol to help remove the oil from the plant.

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If a rash develops, do not scratch it, as that can lead to infection, but apply calamine lotion or hydrocortisone cream or take over-the-counter antihistamines to reduce itching.

If difficulty breathing or swallowing develops, the rash covers much of your body, many blisters appear or swelling occurs, especially of the eyelids, face or genitals, seek medical attention immediately, Vohra said.

For information about poison oak or other poisonous substances, call the Poison Control Center toll-free at 800-222-1222.

This report was compiled by Mike Hodgson, news editor for the Santa Ynez Valley News. He can be reached at mhodgson@leecentralcoastnews.com.

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Mike