New Approach to Mitigating the Itching Effect of Poison Ivy

Scientists at Duke University Medical Center and Zhejiang Chinese Medical University have developed a strategy to stop the uncontrollable itch caused by urushiol, the oily sap common to poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, and even mango trees. The team found that by blocking an immune system protein in the skin with an antibody, they could halt the processes that tell the brain the skin is itchy. The research was done in mice and is described an article published online on November 7, 2016 in PNAS. The article is titled “L-33/ST2 Signaling Excites Sensory Neurons and Mediates Itch Response in a Mouse Model of Poison Ivy Contact Allergy.” The scientist hope their model could lead to potential treatments for people who are allergic to poison ivy -- an estimated 80 percent of the population. For most people, contact with poisonous plants is painful but not life-threatening. Still, there are significant health care costs associated with more than 10 million people in the U.S. affected each year, said senior author Sven-Eric Jordt, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at Duke. “Poison ivy rash is the most common allergic reaction in the U.S., and studies have shown that higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are creating a proliferation of poison ivy throughout the U.S. -- even in places where it wasn’t growing before,” Dr. Jordt said. “When you consider doctor visits, the costs of the drugs that are prescribed, and the lost time at work or at school, the societal costs are quite large.” Some symptoms of the fiery, blistering rash can be alleviated with antihistamines and steroids. But in recent years, scientists have determined that the most severe itching doesn’t go away with antihistamines, because it arises from a different source, Dr. Jordt said.
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