Giant hogweed, the dangerous plant that can cause severe burns and even blindness, has already made its first victim in Virginia, where it was only recently discovered.
Scientifically known as Heracleum mantegazzianum, giant hogweed has sent a 17-year-old to the hospital with third-degree burns to his face and arm, after the young man unwittingly cut down the plant while gardening, reports Newsweek.
Native to central Asia, the white-flowered plant has invaded Northern Virginia and was first spotted there in June, the Inquisitr previously reported. Although pretty to look at, giant hogweed can pose a serious threat, because it emits a toxic sap that reacts with the sun, producing an awful sunburn in the best-case scenario.
Seventeen-year-old Alex Childress had the misfortune of encountering the dangerous plant in the Fredericksburg area — where he was gardening to raise money for college, per Newsweek — and, in his case, the contact with giant hogweed ended with a trip to the VCU Medical Center at the Virginia Commonwealth University.
The teenager didn’t know what the plant was and chopped it down without suspecting that he was about to pay a steep price.
“We were working outside a factory and I snipped down a bush and it fell and touched my face,” Childress said in a statement. “I didn’t pay any mind to it because I do it all the time.”
The poisonous sap of the giant hogweed got on the teenager’s face and left arm, causing what he initially thought was a “really bad” sunburn.
But after the 17-year-old got home, the extent of the damage worsened, Childress told NBC 12.
“I got in the shower and my face started peeling. My mom said I had third degree burns on my face and arms.”
The teenager was immediately rushed to the Spotsylvania Regional Medical Center, from where he was transferred to the VCU’s burn center. Childress was admitted into the Burn ICU on July 10, where he received treatment for second- and third-degree burns for three days.
Prolonged exposure to giant hogweed sap makes the skin increasingly sensitive to sunlight, inhibiting the body’s natural defense against harmful ultraviolet rays. Known as phytophotodermatitis, this process can result in severe burns that get increasingly serious the longer the skin is exposed to UV light.
Childress has been instructed to stay out of the sun until he fully recovers. According to Newsweek, this means the teenager has to forfeit his plans of working through the summer.
The 17-year-old also fears that the run-in with the giant hogweed might also cost him his scholarship at Virginia Tech with the Army ROTC due to “medical disqualification.” On top of that, he doesn’t have health insurance and his family can’t cover the medical bills.
Which is why the teenager set up a GoFundMe page with the goal to raise $10,000 for his recovery, since he still needs “daily wound care which requires debriding the burns to remove dead skin.”
“If you can help it would be great. I will use any funds for supplies for college if I can still attend this fall, and medical bills from being in the Burn ICU,” Childress wrote on the GoFundMe page.
The fundraiser has already raked up $6,600 in only 15 hours.