Giant hogweed: Virginia teenager suffers severe burns after brushing against toxic plant

Youngster rushed to hospital when his 'face started peeling' after contact with phototoxic weed

Brush with toxic hogweed plant burns Virginia teen's face

A teenager was left with third degree burns on his face and arms after brushing against a highly toxic plant while gardening.

Alex Childress had been working a summer landscaping job in Spotsylvania, Virginia, when he came into contact with giant hogweed last week.

Initially, the 17-year-old thought he had sunburn, but became concerned the problem may be more serious as skin began peeling off his face later that evening.

His mother, Chrissy, is a nurse and suspected the plant was cause of the irritation, taking him to hospital where he was later transferred to a specialist burns unit.

“We were working outside a factory and I snipped down a bush and it fell and touched my face,” Mr Childress told NBC 12: “I didn’t pay any mind to it because I do it all the time.”

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

“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, then they cleaned everything else.”

Giant hogweed is phototoxic, meaning it increases sensitivity to ultraviolet light, causing third degree burns on skin and even permanent blindness when its sap comes into contact with a person’s eyes.

The plant’s phototoxic nature left Mr Childress confined to a dark hospital room for more than two days, with even artificial light causing irritation to his burns.

The teenager said he expects his recovery to last several months and fears it may prevent him from attending Virginia Tech later this year after he was awarded a scholarship to the university.

“I’m feeling better,” he added: “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.”

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

Giant hogweed is native to central Asia, but became established in Europe and North America in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Last month, authorities in Virginia warned the plant had been discovered growing in several counties across the state.

Giant hogweed is now widespread across the UK and has been illegal to either plant or cause to grow in the wild since 1981.

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