Is a Poison Ivy Rash Contagious?

Poison ivy

John Burke / Photolibrary / Getty Images

A severe rash from poison ivy may keep a child out of school for a day or two, but it won't be because the rash is contagious. Instead, a severe poison ivy rash, especially one that involves the face, might cause enough swelling, redness, or blisters, that a child might simply not want to be seen in school until it gets better.

Thinking Poison Ivy Is Contagious Is a Myth

Parents often think that poison ivy is contagious because, like many red, itchy rashes, it looks contagious. But rest assured, unlike other skin rashes, such as scabies or chickenpox, you can't get poison ivy by touching someone else's poison ivy rash.

So, why do so many people think poison ivy is contagious? In addition to just assuming an itchy rash is contagious, the way that poison ivy spreads is likely what keeps this long-standing poison ivy myth going.

How Poison Ivy Spreads

After being exposed to poison ivy, susceptible kids often develop the classic poison ivy rash on one or more small areas of their skin. Over the next few days, new rashes are often spread to many other areas of their body.​​​

This pattern makes many people think that there is something on the rash or in the blisters that the child spreads over their body while scratching.

The Science Behind the Poison Ivy Rash 

What is actually happening is that the skin that first broke out in a rash likely just had more exposure to urushiol, a chemical found in poison ivy that triggers a rash.

The urushiol itself is not present in skin blisters or on the rash and can't be spread from one person to another or around one person's body.

Urushiol can sometimes remain on clothing, which can continue to trigger a poison ivy rash every time a child touches or wears the clothing. Or a child can continue to be exposed to poison ivy outside if he doesn't recognize the poison ivy plants.

Having some urushiol on his fingernails from the initial exposure might also be a way that a child could spread the rash around more, as he touches other areas of his body that weren't exposed the first time.

Urushiol can bind and penetrate the skin very quickly, which is why poison ivy experts say that you only have between 10 and 20 minutes to have any chance of washing it off and avoiding or at least reducing the poison ivy rash. In addition to not being contagious, that is why you can't spread poison ivy around much after you have been exposed.

Bottom Line

Even though poison ivy isn't contagious and usually doesn't mean any missed school days, the rash is terribly itchy and uncomfortable. So, do everything you can to help your kids avoid poison ivy in the first place.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). NIOSH Fast Facts: Protecting Yourself from Poisonous Plants. Updated June 6, 2014.

  2. Cleveland Clinic. Poison Ivy, Poison Oak and Poison Sumac. Updated August 4, 2020.

  3. American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD). Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac: What Should I Do If I Touch a Plant?.