Local residents are claiming that a fallen tree in the Bald Hill area might have kicked up a rash of poison oak, with a number of people ending up in the emergency room over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Karen Hege of San Anselmo contacted Patch to report her son’s ill-fated bout of poison oak.
“He woke up at 4 a.m. with his face, neck, and lips swollen and his eyes swollen shut,” Hege wrote in an email. “We ended up in the ER early that morning but they could not figure out what he was having an allergic reaction to. He was basically in bed for 4 days on various medicines.”
Hege said she soon learned that about 20 other people came down with similar symptoms after following the same hike from San Anselmo to Bald Hill. At least one other victim also wound up in the emergency room.
“It seems that when the tree fell it landed on poison oak bushes and the oils from the poison oak became airborne, thus causing a reaction on any part of the body that was not covered with clothing,” Hege reported.
Probably not, says Marin County Parks Deputy Director Ron Miska. “It doesn’t happen that way," he said. "You have to have direct contact with it.”
Most online references back up Miska, saying that poison oak is only an airborne threat if it’s being burned. Hege agreed, having conducting her own research, but still looked at the symptoms, evidence and number of victims as being suspicious.
Miska said he’d contact Hege to get more details and turn it over to the ranger staff to check out the fallen tree presented any possible threat of poison oak to hikers.
It was uncertain at press time under whose jurisdiction the tree lies. The Marin Municipal Water District owns land in the area, but spokesperson Libby Pischel said her agency had not heard about the incident. Miska reported the same thing from the county’s perspective. San Anselmo City Manager Debbie Stutsman said she hadn’t heard about the incident either. The Town of Ross also owns adjacent property.
Miska, Pischel and Stutsman said their agencies had nothing to do with a warning sign that had been posted telling hikers to steer clear of the area.
Poison oak and its eastern counterpart poison ivy are two of the most notoriously painful plants in North America. Each year thousands of people are afflicted with moderate to severe dermatitis from touching the foliage of these plants. It is the most common allergy in the country, claiming half the population.