Va. Tech Freshman Treated for Giant Hogweed Burns

Alex Childress

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports 17-year-old Alex Childress came across a large plant Tuesday while working a summer landscaping job, and it briefly brushed his face and arm as he cut it down.

"The top layer of skin on the left side of his face basically was gone and appeared to be like a really bad burn that had already peeled", Jason Childress said in describing his son's condition.

The Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said last month the risky hogweed plant was spotted at a private home, and researchers have said the plant is not spreading across the commonwealth widely, according to WWBT. He kept working because he did not realize what it was, he said. It's thought it was a giant hogweed, whose sap can cause burns, blisters and blindness. As for Childress, he wound up being transported from Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center to VCU Medical Center's Evans-Haynes Burn Center to get proper treatment for the burns.

The plant looks like a flower with a white bloom on top, but it's the clear watery sap containing photosynthesizing agents that makes it so risky.

"I did have the sap on me, but if you wash it away quickly it's more like poison ivy", Childress said. "I'm feeling better", he told WWBT. His skin will be sensitive to sunlight for months, causing the teen to worry about entering college in the fall.

Childress's mother said they were discharged from the hospital at 5:45 p.m. Thursday. "I just don't say it because he's my kid, but he's one of the toughest kids that I've ever seen".

Jordan Metzgar, curator at the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech, told the Times-Dispatch that giant hogweed have been spotted around Virginia, adding that the plant was not spreading like in NY and other Northern states. Experts say the sap can cause severe skin and eye irritation, leading to painful blistering and possibly permanent scarring.

Giant Hogweed is classified as a Tier 1 noxious weed, which means the weed was previously unknown in the Commonwealth.

It can grow up to 14 feet tall and is identifiable by its deceptively pretty white flower clusters.

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