Teen recovering after coming in contact with dangerous Hogweed plant

Teen recovering after coming in contact with dangerous Hogweed plant
Sap from the Giant Hogweed could cause blindness. (Source: Virginia Invasive Species)
Sap from the Giant Hogweed could cause blindness. (Source: Virginia Invasive Species)

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - A Spotsylvania teen is recovering at VCU Medical Center's Evans-Haynes Burn Center after coming into contact with Giant Hogweed.

The dangerous plant has been found in several locations in Virginia and can cause significant burns and permanent blindness if handled improperly.

Alex Childress, 17, said he was working at his summer landscaping job Tuesday when he came in contact with the plant.

"We were working outside a factory and I snipped down a bush and it fell and touched my face," Childress said. "I didn't pay any mind to it because I do it all the time."

Childress said he wasn't aware of the Hogweed plant until he came home that night and talked to his parents.

"I thought I had a bad sunburn," he said. "I got in the shower and my face started peeling. My mom said I had third degree burns on my face and arms."

Childress was taken to Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, but was then transported to the burn center at VCU in order to get proper treatment for his burns.

"They had me go in the shower for an hour and a half to wash and cleanse my body to get my pH level down," he said. "Then they cleaned everything else."

His coworkers and family did contact state agencies after it was determined he had come in contact with the Hogweed plant.

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 dangerous.

"I did have the sap on me, but if you wash it away quickly it's more like poison ivy," Childress said. "The longer it sits in the sun, the more potent and toxic it gets."

The Spotsylvania High graduate suffered burns on his face and his arm.

He's had to stay in the dark hospital room over the last two days because sunlight and even hospital light irritates those burns.

"I'm feeling better," he said. "There are certain aspects that are painful like when they clean off dead skin or blisters, that's sore. Standing in the shower and having the water run over an open wound kind of hurts."

As for scarring, Childress said doctors told his family there shouldn't be too much of it, but that wasn't Childress's first concern.

He's worried about not being able to attend Virginia Tech this fall on his ROTC scholarship.

"I know my skin will be sensitive to light for a few months," Childress said. "I'm hoping that scholarship will still be available for me."

Childress's mother said they were discharged from the hospital at 5:45 p.m. Thursday.

"Everyone has been really supportive," Childress said. "A lot of people have been checking on me, sending prayers and everything."

As for his advice about  the plant.

"Don't go anywhere near it," Childress said.

Giant Hogweed is classified as a Tier 1 noxious weed, which means the weed was previously unknown in the Commonwealth. Experts say the sap can cause severe skin and eye irritation, leading to painful blistering and possibly permanent scarring. It has a similar appearance to Queen Anne's lace, but its size sets it apart - it can grow up to 15 feet tall.

If you think you have seen Giant Hogweed, VDACS wants you to take photos of the plant and submit a report here. They want to ultimately eradicate the plant before it becomes established in the state.

VCU Medical Center is the only Level 1 adults, pediatric and burn trauma center in the region and the longest-standing, state-designated trauma center in Virginia.

A spokeswoman for the hospital said Childress is the first patient to be treated at the burn center for an encounter with Giant Hogweed.

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