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Surrounding Shrubs Pose Potential Health Hazards

Small shrubs surround many military bases here, but they hide a deadly secret. If ingested, the Nerium Oleander, commonly known as the Laurier Rose, can cause sickness or death.

The oleander, which grows wild on Okinawa, decorates homes and offices with its showy clusters of red, pink and white flowers.

While this native Indian plant may be beautiful, people must be aware of the danger associated with it.

Every part of this flowering plant, used to line streets is poisonous. The flowers, leaves, stems and young shoots can all cause sickness. Touching the plant, green or dry, can cause skin irritation, and breathing fumes from the burning oleander can result in death.

People have reportedly died from using the oleander stems as skewers and chopsticks, and many children have been poisoned by ingesting parts of the plant, according to "Poisonous Plants of the United States and Canada," a book by botanist J. M. Kingsbury. A handful of Okinawan children have come to the hospital with symptoms of poisoning, according to Yoshiko Zamami, public health specialist at the Consolidated Preventive Medicine Unit, U.S. Naval Hospital, Camp Lester.

Some symptoms of poisoning from the oleander plant include nausea, drowsiness, dizziness, irritation of the mouth, difficulty in breathing, abdominal pains, diarrhea and coma or death.

According to Zamami, toxins from the plant can become deadly within a few days. Zamami said if someone notices any of these symptoms after being around the plant, to immediately come to the hospital with a sample of the plant.

"The hospital will make them better," said Zamami, explaining the hospital pumps the stomach and gives proper medicine, "but only if they come."

Zamami said the best advice she can give is to stay away from the plant. Making people aware of the harmful plants is the most she can do, according to Zamami. By informing people, Zamami said, fewer people may have to go through the pain caused by the oleander plant.

For more information on the oleander plant, contact Zamami at 643-7806.


by PFC Peter A. Voss | Central Bureau Correspondent | Okinawa Marine Newspaper