News: Experts offer tips to help Marines, families avoid poisonous Okinawa vegetation
Okinawa is home to an immense and diverse variety of fruits, plants, trees and flowers.
Some are harmless while several species of vegetation here have varying degrees of toxicity that can lead to serious health complications if not identified and treated properly, according to the Preventive Medicine Department of the U.S. Naval Hospital on Camp Lester.
It is imperative service members, whether training or simply exploring Okinawa on their own, establish a basic knowledge of the potentially harmful vegetation throughout the island.
The most commonly encountered toxic plants belong to the Oleander plant family, said Lt. Carl Blaesing, head of Preventive Medicine.
"Because of their fragrant, colorful flowers and ornamental appeal, oleander plants are one of the main vegetation we see service members and their families come into contact with," Blaesing said. "Another reason for frequent exposure is these plants can be found not only outside the base, but within the camps as well."
According to the Marine Corps Bases Japan Facilities Engineer Division, Environmental Affairs Branch, oleanders are only one among several poisonous plants service members run a risk of encountering on base in Okinawa.
The sago palm, also known as sotetsu, is also used as ornamentation for many Okinawan yards and gardens, and can even be found on base. Although aesthetically pleasing, the sago palm's seeds stem and leaves are poisonous if ingested, according to an informational pamphlet released by the Environmental Affairs Branch.
Another common plant, known as the wax tree, or hazenoki, belongs to the same family as the American poison oak and poison ivy. Its leaves induce similar symptoms after coming in contact with skin, such as rashes, severe itching and inflammation, according to the pamphlet.
Blaesing said symptoms of exposure to these plants depend on the ingested or exposed dosage and can run the spectrum from localized skin irritation to vomiting and increased heart rate.
"After exposure, do not attempt home remedies-- seek medical attention immediately," Blaesing said. "The best option for after hours care is to go to the U.S. Naval Hospital emergency room, which is directly tied into the poison control center."
The first step to avoiding contact with poisonous vegetation on base and out in town on Okinawa is to simply be aware there are hazards in this tropical environment, Blaesing said.
"Keep an eye on young children and teach them not to touch, handle or eat any of the local plant life," Blaesing said. "Respect and appreciate the natural beauty of the tropical vegetation without interfering."
For more information on poisonous vegetation on Okinawa, contact your camp's Environmental Affairs Branch or the Preventive Medicine Department at 643-3028.
Date Posted:03.22.2010 03:00
Location:CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, JP
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