Poison Oak and Deer Tick Protocol After Exposure

My 2 Cents

These posts are not meant to make people fearful of venturing into pristine lands but to give you the information to protect yourself. With poison oak and deer ticks found throughout much of the northwest, we consider anytime you venture away from your vehicle you have been exposed to both the urushiol of poison oak and deer ticks. To protect ourselves, our family, and our friends we follow the following protocols. Urushiol and ticks may spread from ourselves, our clothing, and our dogs to our vehicles and our homes if we do not take these precautions.

90% of those that have been exposed multiple times to urushiol will eventually develop the contact dermatitis from further exposure. This rash could be minor or acute enough to put you in the hospital. Urushiol is insidious, you will not have any indication that there is a problem for at least 72 hours and some people up to a week. During this time if you have not completely removed it from your hands you are spreading the oil, therefore the rash may develop any place your hands have gone.

An added benefit is if you follow these protocols you will also greatly reduce you and your families exposure of ticks.

Ticks are the perfect vector

As they insert their mouth parts under the skin their saliva is injected which contains local anesthesia so once they have started drilling in there is not sensation. Their populations and range have been increasing, as well as the number of pathogens they carry have been identified.

“Ticks are efficient vectors of multiple pathogens due to their potential interactions with several different vertebrate hosts during their life cycle. As a result, they have the opportunity to acquire a large array of different types of organisms that are present in the blood of these hosts. – Ulrike G. Munderloh, D.V.M., Ph.D. Department of Entomology, University of Minnesota


If you follow these protocols you will minimize you and your families exposure to both urushiol and ticks.

Upon returning to the trailhead:

  • Put your daypack in a cotton bag then a trash bag and
  • Remove boots put in a suitable plastic bag
  • SCRUB SCRUB SCRUB hands and any other exposed skin WITH CLEAN washcloth and dish soap to remove the urushiol and any ticks
  • Put on clean cotton gloves and minimize touching your clothing as you remove and place in a cotton bag which is in a plastic trash bag minimizing touching the outside of bags
  • Place bag in your car
  • Remove gloves and place in plastic trash bag
  • Put washcloth in bag
  • Put on clean clothes

Upon Returning Home:

Put on clean cotton gloves and a long sleeved shirt and carry contaminated clothing directly to washer. If you allow the bag to dwell for any length of time in your home you will contaminate your house and family with ticks.

  • Set washer to the hottest wash and rinse cycle suitable for your clothes
  • Regular laundry detergent will work
  • Dump contaminated clothing and the bag in washer without contamination of outside of the washer
  • Wipe down washer placing rag and gloves in washer

Preventing Ticks Starts at the Drier:

Umbellularia californica commonly called California bay laurel or California bay is also called Oregon myrtle pepperwood, spicebush, cinnamon bush, peppernut tree, headache tree, mountain laurel, and balm of heaven and it will dissuade ticks and mosquitoes. I have written before about how the dusky footed woodrat lines its nest with the leaves of this plant to the nymphs of the deer tick Ixodes scapularis. It contains the volatile ketone umbellulone which has been shown to kill the nymphs and repel the other stages of this vector.

Place California bay leaves in the dryer also place fresh bay leaves in whatever container you store your hiking clothing in and it will be unlikely ticks will linger on you. You will also find that this habit is also a component of controlling your own scent when working to get close to wildlife and game. Check back soon for the full article on controlling your smell when pursuing wildlife.

If you are knowledgeable and mindful and you follow these protocols you and your family my never get the rash or another tick.

"Poison-oak grows as a dense leafy shrub in the open or in filtered sun. In shaded areas it becomes a tall-climbing vine. Leaflets are blunt-tipped in groups of three, from ½ inch to 4 inches long, with scalloped, toothed, or lobed edges. The center leaf of the cluster resembles an oak leaf. Western poison-oak grows along the Pacific Coast from New Mexico to Canada. Eastern poison-oak ranges from New Jersey to Florida and from central Texas to Kansas. Smoke from burning plants carries irritating oleoresin and can cause serious reactions"
—Wildland Firefighting Magazine
"Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and full use of senses. Given a chance, a child will bring the confusion of the world to the woods, wash it in the creek, turn it over to see what lives on the unseen side of the confusion. Nature can frighten a child, too, and this fright serves a purpose. In nature, a child finds freedom, fantasy, and privacy; a place distant from the adult world, a separate peace."
—Richard Louv, Last Child in the Woods