Invasive plant found in Pennsylvania could cause blistering, blindness

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If you think you've been burned by a reaction after coming into contact with giant hogweed, see a physician immediately.

And it's probably already well on its way to Hampton Roads. The sap of the plant is phototoxic and can, when combined with sunlight on a person's skin, lead to severe irritation, blistering, scarring and third-degree burns.

The Giant Hogweed is now listed on the Virginia Invasive Plants Early Detection Species list, meaning the plant is not widely established in the state but is known to be highly invasive to habitats similar to Virginia's.

Mark Sutphin, an agent with Virginia Cooperative Extension, said Monday the weed's presence was confirmed in Berryville several days ago. "It does look similar to some other common weeds, but if you suspect it could be giant hogweed, protect yourself first before any further investigation".

The Giant Hogweed could find its way into the Tidewater and Coastal Virginia area, the county said. The USDA website shows it has also been found in MI and IL.

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When the plant spread across New York in the past, The New York State Department of Health recommended that anyone who came in contact with the plant wash it off with cold water immediately and get out of the sun. Topical steroids can reduce the severity of the burns. That photosensitivity can last for years and if the sap gets into a person's eyes, it can cause permanent blindness. Apply sunscreen to the affected areas.

"Heat and moisture (sweat or dew) can worsen the skin reaction". By the time the plant is noticed, it has probably already spread it's seeds, as each plant can drop thousands. The stem of the plant reportedly has characteristic raised spots of red and dark purple color along with bristle-like hairs.

The plants that were discovered in Clarke County last week are being removed by VDACS.

Sap of the Giant hogweed contains toxic chemicals known as photosensitizing furanocoumarins. So if you call any of those locations home (or a vacation destination), it can't hurt to commit a few distinguishing features of the plant to memory. Mowing or cutting the plant only increases the risk of it spreading or growing back.

Weed eating can splatter the sap that is harmful to humans. However, as reported, the population of this extremely risky plant could even be noticed in New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, Michigan, Virginia, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

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