What Are Contagious Skin Diseases?
Your skin is your body’s armor, protecting it from harmful environmental forces. But sometimes, viruses, bacteria or fungi penetrate skin and cause infections. These infections are called contagious skin diseases. Here's a list of common contagious skin diseases and their causes:
- Impetigo – This infection is spread by contact with the sores of an infected person, and most often affects infants and children.
- Molluscum contagiosum – This virus spreads to other body parts by scratching or from person to person. In adults, molluscum contagiosum is often acquired through sexual contact.
- Fungal infections – People get fungal infections from breathing in or brushing up against fungal spores in the environment. Most often they affect people with weakened immune systems.
- Athlete’s foot – The fungus that causes athlete’s foot is often found on damp surfaces such as around a swimming pool or public showers.
- Scabies – This infection is caused by microscopic mites that burrow into the skin to live and feed. The infection spreads from skin-to-skin contact or from infested items such as furniture and bed linens.
- Ringworm – You can get this fungal infection from skin-to-skin contact with an infected person or animal.
- Shingles – Shingles develops from the same virus that causes chicken pox.
Contagious skin diseases present with a wide range of symptoms. Some have similarities such as rashes, but most are very different.
- Impetigo – Red sores around the nose, mouth, hands and feet. Honey-colored crusts develop after the sores rupture. Impetigo may cause mild itching and soreness.
- Molluscum contagiosum – Small, firm bumps that are pink or skin-colored with a dimpled center. They turn red as the immune system fights the infection. Some bumps may itch but are otherwise painless. Molluscum contagiosum often appears on the face, neck, hands, arms and armpits.
- Fungal infections – Rash in moist areas of the body where skin rubs up against skin, such as between the toes, under the breasts and in the genital area.
- Athlete’s foot – A cracked or blistered rash that causes stinging, itching and burning and possibly an unpleasant odor. Usually starts between the toes but can also appear on the soles and sides of the feet, and can spread to the toenails, groin and armpits.
- Scabies – Itching that keeps you up at night, rash with small bumps that look like hives, sores from scratching that can become infected, and crusty areas in severe cases. Mites can burrow anywhere on the body but prefer between the wrists, elbows, fingers, around fingernails, the buttocks, belt line, penis and around the nipples.
- Ringworm – A fungal infection that starts as a red scaly area. The area spreads outward and forms a circular ring with a slightly wavy border. The inside of the circle may look clear, scaly or bumpy and red. Sometimes several rings appear and overlap.
- Shingles – Pain, burning, numbness or tingling, red rash, blisters that rupture and crust, and itching. Most often appears as a single strip of blisters that wrap around your torso, but can also develop around an eye, neck or face. Shingles may also cause fever, headache, fatigue and light sensitivity.<
Some contagious skin diseases clear on their own. For instance, molluscum contagiosum in children tends to resolve within 12 to 18 months. But most require over-the-counter or prescription treatment.
- Topicals – Antibiotic ointments for impetigo; antifungal powders or sprays for athlete’s foot; antifungal creams or ointments for athlete’s foot and ringworm; prescription creams or lotions for scabies; acids and blistering solutions to destroy molluscum contagiosum bumps; steroid creams to ease itch and redness.
- Oral medications – Antibiotics for impetigo; antifungal drugs for athlete’s foot and ringworm; antiviral drugs for shingles.
- Surgery – Cryosurgery, curettage and laser surgery to remove molluscum contagiosum bumps.
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