CBS 2's Dr. Max Has Tips On How You Can Avoid Getting It

Updated 8/21/2010 8:09 p.m.

NEW YORK (CBS 2) — It’s itchy, painful and it spreads fast. Doctors say they are seeing record numbers of patients with the irritating rash.

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It’s poison ivy and this year is one of the worst seasons in decades.

Yigal Zachai got poison ivy after working in his yard.

“I had a lot of blisters which had to be drained,” said Zachai of Teaneck, N.J.

CBS 2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports reaction to the weed usually takes 12 to 48 hours to develop after contact. It can last up to eight weeks.

No one is sure why it’s so bad this year. One theory is a bad winter killed off a lot of plants, creating more room for the ivy to grow. Another theory is more people are staying home in this tough economy and spending time in their backyards.

Carol Bratman got the itchy, red welts after helping in her daughter’s yard.

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“It’s the kind of thing that you really want to like rip your skin out of your body. It gets that itchy sometimes,” said Bratman.

Dermatologist Margaret Ravits of Hackensack University Medical Center said she’s seen 10 cases within two days.

“I’ve been getting calls morning and at night. Can you add me to your schedule? I just broke out,” said Ravits.

The old rhyme “Leaves of three, let it be” is meant to help you identify and, hopefully, avoid the weed. Those leaves can have a smooth or jagged edge and can also change color during the fall.  It can grow on the ground, as a vine or as a small bush.

If you wash the oil off within the first 30 minutes of exposure, you can usually prevent an outbreak. However, it’s better to avoid contact altogether by wearing protective clothes.

“I learned my lesson the hard way,” said Zachai.

Poison ivy stays potent on objects like clothes or shoes for a long time.

So make sure you wash them; otherwise you can get a reaction months later.

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You also need to be careful around your pets. Poison ivy doesn’t seem to affect them, but they can get the oil on their fur and give it to you.