Another non-food protein reaction, urushiol-induced contact dermatitis, originates after contact with poison ivy, eastern poison oak, western poison oak, or poison sumac. Urushiol, which is not itself a protein, acts as a hapten and chemically reacts with, binds to, and changes the shape of integral membrane proteins on exposed skin cells. The immune system does not recognize the affected cells as normal parts of the body, causing a T-cell-mediated immune response. Of these poisonous plants, sumac is the most virulent. The resulting dermatological response to the reaction between urushiol and membrane proteins includes redness, swelling, papules, vesicles, blisters, and streaking.



Estimates vary on the percentage of the population that will have an immune system response. Approximately 25 percent of the population will have a strong allergic response to urushiol. In general, approximately 80 percent to 90 percent of adults will develop a rash if they are exposed to .0050 milligrams (7.7×10?5 gr) of purified urushiol, but some people are so sensitive that it takes only a molecular trace on the skin to initiate an allergic reaction.

 

Genetic basis