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How Dermatitis Caused Plant Causes
4.0 History Of Dermatitis [8]

Contact Dermatitis has always been known to man throughout history, from noxious plants in the environment. The first cases were probably reported to the tribal medicine doctor in the hunting and gathering period, where toxic chemicals were contacted when running through woods etc. As Britain progressed into a Agricultural nation, incidence of the affliction became widespread, particularly from internal ingestion of plant products such as the ergot fungus in the 13th century, from contaminated rye, which were fed to peasant via bread, causing a reaction known as St.Anthonys fire, which caused hallucinations and gangrene. The earliest report from plant contact dermatitis comes from writings by Pliny the Younger, in the first century AD, who describes 'a severe itching from cutting pine trees'.

Horticulture has also always been a popular pastime hobby and industry from the earliest days. The first tree nurseries which were developed at the time of the Enclosure Acts provided Hawthorn for the millions of miles of hedgerows, causing direct mechanical injury from thorns. Kings and Popular people always enjoyed a grand and sumptuous gardens and employed hundreds of workers, no doubt causing many cases of dermatitis.

It is interesting to note that the causes of the affliction were not understood until later this century. It was often believed to be caused by erratic behaviours. In the 19th Century Dakin, describing Rhus species dermatitis in 1829, observed that some people suffered from the disease while others did not. He posed the question "Can it be possible that some peculiar structure of the cuticle or mucosum (refers to skin)constitutes the idiosyncrasy?"

As we progressed into the industrial ages, we see a shift of the population to the town and cities, and the incidences of plant dermatitis is taken over by more serious forms from chemicals encountered in industry. However as the Empires and exploration of the world expanded, new exotic plants are brought back from the tropics, which contained very irritant chemicals, eliciting an increase in the cases of dermatitis in the rapidly expanding horticultural industry. New methods therefore were sought to combat the causes and treatment of the affliction In 1847 Stadler described a method of reproducing the strip lesions provoked by Anacardium occidentale:

It is described thus: "Blotting paper 1 cm is soaked in the sap of Balsam and applied to the thorax.
15 minutes later, the subject experiences a burning sensation which increases rapidly in half an hour. The skin turns red. The blotting paper is kept in place for 3 hours."

Since that time the treatment and experimentation in dermatology has increased significantly, and laws were passed entitling people to compensation, and protection. Education on the subject increased significantly. Before the war, the greatest incidence of plant contact dermatitis was caused by Primula obconica, a popular houseplant of the period. After this period the incidence of the  affliction decreased significantly, as treatments improved, and Topical steroids were invented.
Today however the cases of dermatitis are still abundant, and are increasing, as the world globalises, and becomes more competitive. People in the industry have to work harder, and come into contact with a wider variety of plants, in increasingly intensive work conditions. Education on the subject may be non existent in some colleges. Many new plants are also being discovered in the tropics
that elicit the cases.

Dermatitis In the Horticulture Industry By James M. Burton In Association With Pencoed College Copyright 1997.