A teen was left with a blister as big as an orange and struggling to dress himself after a moment of contact with ‘Britain’s most dangerous plant’.
Ross McPherson reckons he brushed past the dreaded giant hogweed while cycling near his home in Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland.
A few hours later, he noticed his hand turning red – and soon after it erupted in painful blisters that needed hospital treatment.
The blisters then had to be removed without anaesthesia, subjecting the 16-year-old to so much pain that he fainted.
‘I was riding my bike and I must’ve just brushed past it,’ said Ross. ‘It would’ve been seconds.
A teen was left with a blister as big as an orange and struggling to dress himself after a moment of contact with ‘Britain’s most dangerous plant’
Ross McPherson reckons he brushed past the dreaded giant hogweed while cycling near his home in Dunbar, East Lothian, Scotland
‘When I first noticed it, my hand was just red and slightly painful. I didn’t know what it was. It felt warm.’
Soon after, the blisters emerged.
He said: ‘The skin was swollen around my hand, it felt warm and it hurt.
‘It impacted daily life quite a lot: I couldn’t put clothes over it and, because it was over my joints, I couldn’t really use my left hand.
‘It felt like having a giant balloon on my hand that was susceptible to pain at any point in the day.’
He added: ‘I could barely get my coat off, I could barely put jumpers or t-shirts on; it was unusable basically – I couldn’t do anything with it.
‘I had smaller blisters over the knuckles, so moving my fingers was also excruciating, so I didn’t really do that either.’
Ross said his hand was initially assessed by his GP, who diagnosed contact dermatitis.
But he would ultimately be treated at Edinburgh’s Royal Infirmary after visiting its A&E department.
The teenager had a mixture of second and third-degree burns.
He described the pain as ‘absolute hell’.
He said: ‘The person we saw thought originally that we would have to go to the burns unit in Livingston to get it done.
He noticed his hand turning red – and soon after it erupted in painful blisters that needed hospital treatment
‘But they told her just to do it in the Royal Infirmary, so she cut like a line in it and drained the fluid.
‘Some of it was jelly so she opened it up and pulled the jelly out, and she cut around all the dead and blistered skin, and pulled it off – there was quite a lot of it.
‘You’re not on anaesthetic because they need to make sure the nerves aren’t damaged and that you’re feeling it – because in the more serious cases that can happen.
‘It was absolute hell. It hurt so much. I fainted during it, it was that bad.’
When it was burst, the biggest blister was the size of an orange.
Ross said: ‘The largest one was seven centimetres by eight centimetres. It was like an orange.
‘It was heavy; I could feel the weight of it on my hand continuously.’
‘I had smaller blisters over the knuckles, so moving my fingers was also excruciating, so I didn’t really do that either,’ he said
The teenager had a mixture of second and third-degree burns. He described the pain as ‘absolute hell’
The giant hogweed’s sap stops the skin protecting itself against the sun’s rays, leading to gruesome burns when exposed to natural light.
Part of what makes it so dangerous is that it usually causes no immediate pain, so its victims can continue to burn in the sunshine heedless of any problem.
And it only takes a moment of exposure for the sap to do its work.
Now Ross’ hand is healing up, but he’ll be living with the after-effects for some time.
He said: ‘It’ll remain sensitive for years and years, but they can’t give an exact number.
‘They said put factor 50 sunscreen on it for the next couple of years, or a glove in the winter if possible.’
The giant hogweed is native to the Caucasus, but was introduced to Britain as an ornamental plant in 1817, and its spread has now got out of control.
Mike Duddy, of the Mersey Basin Rivers Trust, said in 2015 that the giant hogweed was ‘without a shadow of a doubt, the most dangerous plant in Britain’.
If exposed to the plant, you should thoroughly wash the area that made contact and keep it out of sunlight for a few days, the Woodland Trust advises.
Ross was unambiguous that it was giant hogweed he encountered, but a spokesperson for East Lothian Council said they’d been unable to locate it.
They said: ‘Suspected giant hogweed was reported to us in Dunbar and on investigation of the location provided it was concluded it was in fact common hogweed.
‘Every report of giant hogweed is fully investigated and actioned if it is on council land.
‘Members of the public are requested and encouraged to report giant hogweed to us via the website or calling the council contact centre so that these plants can be dealt with as they appear.’
A spokesperson for NHS Lothian said they could not comment on a patient’s care without their consent.