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Virginia Teen Suffers Third-Degree Burns From Giant Invasive Weed While Gardening

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An incoming freshman student at Virginia Tech was rushed to the hospital with second- and third-degree burns after he cut down what he did not know to be the noxious giant hogweed. The invasive plant is listed as a Federal Noxious Weed under the Plant Protection Act.

Giant Hogweed Encounter

On Tuesday, 17-year-old Alex Childress was simply working his summer job at a garden around Fredericksburg, Virginia, when, as a part of his job, he cut down a tall plant with white flowers and picked it up to discard it in the woods. In that short encounter, the plant briefly touched his cheek and arm.

When he got home, he thought he was experiencing a bad sunburn, and his father noticed the top layer of skin on the left side of his face had already peeled off. According to his father, this surprised them, as Alex does not usually get sunburns. His mother, on the other hand, who is a nurse at VCU Medical Center, thought that the burns may be from an encounter with the giant hogweed plant’s sap.

The family brought Alex to a regional medical center but was transferred to the burn unit at VCU Medical Center, as he had evidently suffered second- and third-degree burns from the encounter. He was treated there for three days and was released by Thursday but still requires wound care that may take quite a bit of time.

Unfortunately, with the burns and extra sensitivity to sunlight, this means that Alex can no longer work his summer job, which he had been doing to earn extra cash for college. Further, Alex worries that he might lose his Army ROTC scholarship at Virginia Tech due to medical disqualification, and it is still unclear if his employer’s insurance would cover his medical bills. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help cover the costs of the medical bills and to help him with college supplies if he still gets to attend this fall.

Invasive Plant

In recent months, authorities from various states have been warning the public of encounters with giant hogweed, which is an invasive plant that’s considered noxious and dangerous by the United States Department of Agriculture. When people get in contact with its toxic sap just as Alex did, it can cause severe burns, blisters, sunlight sensitivity, and even blindness if it comes in contact with the eyes.

In Virginia, authorities have been notified of several giant hogweed sightings since June. However, when authorities returned to Fredericksburg to check for the plant that Alex encountered, they did not see any plant that resembled a giant hogweed. According to Jordan Metzgar, curator at the Massey Herbarium in Virginia Tech, most of the giant hogweed that he has seen were intentionally planted for decorative purposes.

The giant hogweed was intentionally introduced to the United States for ornamental purposes and has since become an invasive species. Although the giant hogweed may be mistaken for similar-looking plants with the white flower tops, the giant weed that can grow up to 15 feet is considered a dangerous plant. Anyone who suspects they have seen a giant hogweed should not attempt to take it out, especially with weed whackers, mowers, or cutters but instead should call authorities to have it properly taken care off.

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