Invasive plant leaves Essex woman with severe burns

Published: Jul. 17, 2018 at 8:20 AM EDT
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The painful blisters came as a surprise to Essex resident Charlotte Murphy. She fell while walking in tall grass at the end of June. The blisters came later-- the result of an encounter with a poison parsnip plant.

"I definitely made contact on my lower left leg with the broken leaves but didn't realize what had happened," she said.

Murphy says she started blistering about a week later after spending much of the week working in the sun and was shocked by the delayed effects.

"A week after the initial point of contact I had these huge blisters develop overnight, which is crazy. They grew exponentially in one day. Then I knew I had to go to the hospital," she said.

After a trip to urgent care and seeing a burn specialist, Murphy found out that blisters and burns were comparable to a second-degree burn and were caused by the invasive plant.

"Kind of a state of panic, yeah, I was trying to piece together what had happened and why my skin was reacting this way," Murphy said.

"The risk is pervasive and so we want to make sure everyone wants to recognize the plant and knows that if they do come in contact with it, is that they need to wash it off immediately and make sure they don't get exposed to sunlight," said David Grass of the Vermont Department of Health.

Grass says the sap in the parsnip has a chemical reaction when exposed to sunlight, which creates the burns.

"It's not like poison ivy or poison oak where the oil is on the surface... of the leaf and just brushing up would be sufficient to getting the sap out. There really needs to be some break in the flower," Grass said.

Grass says if you are out in tall grass, wear long pants and sleeves. If you brush up against the parsnip, make sure to wash the area that was touched as there could be a delay in the effects from the plant.

"It doesn't break out immediately into a blister or a rash, it could take a little while," Grass said.

"I should be back to pretty normal activity in a week or two. Definitely will have scarring, yeah, I should be making a full recovery, which is very encouraging," Murphy said.

Hoping to save other people from the same pain, Murphy shared her story on Facebook and had more than 35,000 shares when this story was published. She says she hopes to prevent anyone else from going through the painful encounter.