Published: Mon, July 16, 2018
Science | By Joan Schultz

Giant hogweed sends Virginia teen to hospital, burn unit

Giant hogweed sends Virginia teen to hospital, burn unit

A teenager is recovering after being badly burned by a unsafe plant in Richmond, Virginia.

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

Soon to be Virginia Tech freshman Alex Childress, 17, was working his summer landscaping job in the Fredericksburg, VA area when he came across what he thought was a large weed. He kept working because he did not realize what it was, he said. "I didn't pay any mind to it because I do it all the time".

"I got in the shower and my face started peeling".

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.

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

Although the plant may look pretty with its white flowers, it's actually extremely unsafe.

Dan Kraus, a biologist with the conservancy, said the invasive Asian species likely arrived in Canada in the 1940s and can now be found in areas of the Atlantic provinces and Quebec, and has been spreading in southern Ontario and southern B.C. Known as phytophotodermatitis, this process can result in severe burns that get increasingly serious the longer the skin is exposed to UV light. "I'm feeling better", he told WWBT. When these chemicals touch human skin, they can make it extra sensitive to sunlight, leading to painful blisters and possibly scarring.

But by the end of the day, his condition had worsened, his father, Justin Childress, told WTVR. "I'm hoping that scholarship will still be available for me", he said. He was discharged Thursday.

"Everyone has been really supportive", Childress said. "I am always helping other people whenever and wherever I can, but now I am in need of help".

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

In Virginia, giant hogweed is classified as a Tier 1 noxious weed, requiring that "no person shall move, transport, deliver, ship, or offer for shipment into or within the Commonwealth any noxious weed" without a permit.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation says hogweed plants can grow up to 15 feet tall, and have been spotted across the state this summer.

Corey Childs, an extension agent in the northern Shenandoah Valley housed in Warren County, visited the Clarke County site Monday to collect Giant Hogweed samples for the Massey Herbarium at Virginia Tech.

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