As the skin acts as a protective barrier from harmful environmental agents, sometimes different pathogens (such as viruses, bacteria, or fungi) enter the skin and cause infections. These infections are termed as contagious skin rashes. Apart from that, the other potential cause of rashes could be allergies or medicinal reactions. A rash is an eruption of skin lesions, that spreads widely. Rash can be localized or can cover large skin area and has many forms. It can be dry, smooth, cracked, moist, bumpy or have blisters. At times, rashes tend to be painful, itchy and can change in colour/appearance.
Here is a list of different types of contagious skin rashes:
- Impetigo: Impetigo is an extremely contagious skin infection that particularly affects the children between 2 to 5 years of age. The symptoms of impetigo tend to be red, patchy and itchy skin. The tiny red blisters occur around the mouth, nose or in the edges. These blisters either burst and leak pus/fluid, leaving behind thick yellowish to brownish golden crusts.
As these crusts dry, the skin tends to heal, generally without scarring. Although, these sores are painless, they can be very itchy. In order to prevent infection from spreading to the other body parts or to other people, one most not touch or scratch them. This condition is more prevalent in confined environments, warm/humid climates or army barracks.
Impetigo is caused by the bacteria, Staphylococcus Aureus (S. Aureus) and Streptococcus Pyogenes (S. Pyogenes) that are naturally present on the skin and mouth flora respectively. However, they tend to cause infections due to a cut or injury. The infection usually spreads in two ways, either, when the bacteria invades the skin without an entry site or because of any underlying skin condition (such as Eczema/Scabies) that has disrupted the barrier of the skin.
- Scabies: Scabies is a skin condition that leads to itchy rash which is caused by an 8-legged microscopic mite (Sarcoptes Scabiei). The symptomatic conditions of scabies include severe to intense itching, particularly that worsens at night. Sores tend to occur on the mite infested area of the skin, if scratched. Norwegian scabies (crusted scabies) is a severe form of scabies, wherein thousands of mites and their eggs are retained within the crusts of the skin resulting into serious skin ailments. The affected skin surface forms thick, greyish crusts.
The most common area of scabies infestation in adults and elderly population are spaces between the digits, armpits, waistline, breasts and nipple area, feet soles, male groin region, buttocks, inner wrist area, knees, shoulders and fingernail surface. While, in infants and kids, the commonly infested areas are scalp, face, neck, feet soles and palms. Also, widespread infestations in children tend to cover the entire body. Infants infected with the mite infestations suffer from irritability, insomnia and eating problems.
The scabies rash is formed when the scabies mite burrows into the skin forming lines or tracks that resemble hives, knots, bites, pimples or scaly skin patches. Also, at times resulting into blisters. Sores tend to occur on the mite infested area of the skin, if scratched. Also, at times resulting into blisters. As scabies is extremely contagious, it spreads through skin contact or use of towels, beds or furniture infested with the scabies mites. The infection can also spread in sexually active adults or the ones having multiple partners, individuals with immunocompromised conditions (such as HIV/Aids), or the ones on immunosuppressant drugs and recipients of transplants.
- Molluscum Contagiosum (MC): MC is a common and contagious viral infection of the skin caused by the virus (Molluscum Contagiosum). It produces raised benign pearl-like papules/bumps or lesions on the upper skin layer. In medical terms, these nodules are called Molluscum bodies/Condyloma subcutaneum/Mollusca and the condition is called as Molluscipoxvirus. MC is a common infection in children, however, is generally harmless and self-limiting.
The lesions are generally painless and don’t tend to itch and can affect any uncovered skin areas such as the face, trunk, legs, hands and arms. They also tend to appear on the chest and stomach. Mollusca that are sexually transmitted occur on the lower abdomen, groin, inner thighs and genital area. They are usually clustered and appear on the upper skin surface and spread to other body parts. The size of these molluscas is usually 1 to 5mm (millimetres) and are filled with pus having a dimpled centre, which may bleed if they burst.
MC tends to spread through skin contact with an infected person or through sexual contact. It can proliferate to different regions of the body or other individuals can get infected, if in contact with the contaminated objects such as towel. Also, itching or rubbing the papules can allow the infection to spread to the nearby skin surface. The virus tends to be contagious until the bumps/lesions are healed. Most individuals have good resistance towards the virus, and are less likely to be infected, unless the immune system is impaired.
- Scabies: Scabies infection is caused by a microscopic mite (Sarcoptes Scabiei), which results into intense itching. It is a skin condition that includes a skin rash consisting of small red papules/blisters. It may also result into tiny, red irregular burrow lines made up of blisters/bumps. The itching associated with Scabies is pre-dominant during night time. The infection can occur on any body part, and is more prevalent in the skin folds. In adults and young children, Scabies mostly occurs between the spaces of the digits, waist area, feet soles, breast region, groin area of the men, armpits, buttocks, knees and inner elbows. In infants and young kids, the common areas of infestation are scalp, feet soles and palms.
Sarcoptes Scaibei, an 8-legged, microscopic mite tends to cause scabies in humans. The mite delves underneath the skin surface and makes a burrow, where the eggs are deposited. The eggs get hatched and the mite larvae travels to the skin surface, where they get matured and spread to other areas of the skin or to other individuals upon contact with the infested area. The itching associated with scabies results from the body’s allergic response to the mites, eggs and their waste secretions. Scabies can spread through physical/sexual contact with an infected person or sharing of bedding with an infected person.
- Shingles: Shigles is a viral infection affecting the skin that is caused by the Varicella-Zoster Virus (VZV), the same virus that causes Chicken pox. If an individual has had Chicken pox before, the virus tends to stays dormant in the nerve tissue near the spinal cord and brain, that activates as Shingles later. Shingles usually affects a single nerve ganglion nearby the spinal cord (Dorsal Root Ganglion), due to which the symptoms tend to occur in certain areas of the body, rather than the entire body. The symptomatic conditions of Shingles include pain/tingling sensation, sensitised skin, and red rash along with fluid-filled blisters that result into itching. Other symptomatic conditions experienced include fever, fatigue, sensitivity to light and headache.
The symptoms of Shingles include growing intense pain which is intermittent, skin rash resembling chicken pox that affects specific areas which is comprised of blisters. The other symptomatic conditions of shingles are fever, headache, fatigue, upset stomach and chills. After 7 to 10 days, the blisters get dried to form scabs or crusts and tend to disappear leaving minor scars. Shingles generally lasts for about 2 to 4 weeks and tend to be contagious until the blisters dry up or scab off.
Shingles is caused by VZV, the same virus that causes chicken-pox. Thus, individuals who have had chicken-pox are at a greater risk of developing shingles. Because the virus lies dormant in the nervous system and eventually re-activates, that travels across the nerve pass ways developing into shingles. The cause for shingles is yet not completely understood, however, it could be due to reduced immunity towards infections resulted out of aging. Thus, shingles tends to be more common in geriatric population and in individuals with fragile immune systems.
A person who has contracted shingles can pass the virus to individuals who have not had chicken pox or is not vaccinated for the same. It usually occurs upon direct physical contact with the open unhealed sores of the shingles rash. Therefore, until the shingles blisters are not dried or scabbed off, physical contact with such individuals should be avoided (especially individuals who tend to have fragile immune systems, pregnant women and infants).
- Herpes: Herpes is a contagious skin infection caused by the HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) that affects the mucosal linings, groin/anal area and the skin in other body regions. Herpes is a prolonged condition and many individuals do not show any symptoms even if they are carriers of the virus. The symptoms include blisters/ulcers around the external genitalia (vagina/cervix), pain while urination, sores, vaginal discharge, reddish blisters on the skin, enlarged lymph nodes, fever, illness, high temperature, cold sores around the mouth region, pain and itching. Most individuals with HSV infection, tend to have recurrent herpes break-outs on a more frequent basis.
When the virus is present on the skin surface of an infected person, it can be transmitted to other individuals through moist skin, mucosal linings of the mouth, genitals and anus. The virus also tends to spread through other skin areas and eyes. Herpes infection can occur upon having physical contact with an infected individual, having unprotected vaginal/anal sex or having oral sex with a person who has cold sores. The chances of virus being transmitted to another individual are greater until the blister is dried and completely healed.
- Ringworm: Ringworm is a fungal infection of the skin that results into ring-shaped lesions on the outer skin layer. The lesions tend to be reddish and cause itchiness, that appears on the scalp, torso or outer edges. The symptomatic conditions of the ringworm include scaly ring-like patches and scattered red bumps with a clear/scaly area inside the ring, which also tends to over-lap. Ringworm is highly contagious and an individual may acquire it upon getting in contact with an infected person or pet. Different types of fungi can cause ringworm infections. These fungi are extremely contagious as long as their reproductive cells stay alive. Generally, ringworm remain contagious during the initial 48 hours of treatment.
Ringworm tends to spread through direct contact with infected skin/reproductive cells of the fungus. These cells dwell on the fabrics, clothing, cushions, bedding or porous elements. Damp environments such as public showers/locker rooms provide thriving conditions for the fungus. The fungal infections such as the athlete’s feet and jock itch are caused by the same fungus that causes ringworm. Therefore, one should avoid touching the groin area/feet, as it can cause the ringworm to spread to these parts of body.
Certain factors that increase the chances of developing the infection include hot and humid habitats, excessive sweating, playing contact sports (such as wrestling/football), use of public showers/locker rooms, use of tight shoes, close contact with animals (pets) and compromised immune system. Also, sharing of personal things such as bedding, clothing/accessories, hairbrushes, makeup and towels can also spread the infection.
The primary step to prevent contagious rashes from spreading are practicing good hygiene. Washing hands regularly with soap/water and avoid sharing of clothing, hair accessories or towels with other people. Also, it is essential to change/launder bedsheets/pillowcases to prevent these contagious skin rashes from spreading. As children pre-dominantly tend to suffer from these contagious skin rashes, precautionary measures should be taught to them.
Generally, these skin rashes tend to heal on their own. The certain home remedies such as taking an oatmeal bath or applying calamine lotion can help soothe the rashes. Over-the-counter medicines such as hydrocortisone cream can be applied to the affected area, if the rash is very itchy and causing discomfort. However, an individual should contact a medical practioner, in case, the rash is spreading rapidly. The possible cure for the rash will be determined by the dermatologist depending upon the condition.