What Is Skin Rash?
Skin rashes are abnormal changes in skin color, texture, or appearance that are usually a result of skin inflammation. Rashes may affect a localized area or occur all over the body.
Examples of contagious rashes caused by viruses include:
- Herpes rashes, including
- Herpes simplex 1 and 2
- Rash and blisters that accompany shingles
- Measles and rubella
- Molluscum contagiosum
- Erythema infectiosum (“fifth disease”)
Examples of contagious rashes caused by bacteria include:
- Meningococcal disease rash caused by Neisseria meningitides (N. meningitides)
- Cellulitis and erysipelas
Examples of contagious rashes caused by fungi include:
What Are Symptoms of Skin Rash?
Symptoms of contagious skin rashes depend on the condition and may include:
- Skin bumps
- Blisters that may rupture and turn into open sores
- Skin swelling
- Skin redness
- Skin warmth
Depending on the cause of the rash, other symptoms may accompany contagious skin rashes such as:
What Causes Skin Rash?
The cause of contagious skin rash depends on the type of rash:
- Herpes is caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) and herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) that is passed from person to person during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.
- Chickenpox is caused by a virus called varicella-zoster virus.
- The varicella-zoster virus can linger in the body for years and later cause a painful rash called shingles.
- Measles and rubella are caused by the measles and rubella viruses.
- Molluscum contagiosum is a type of poxvirus.
- Erythema infectiosum is caused by a virus called human parvovirus B19.
- Impetigo is usually caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, which is a type of "staph" infection, and is less commonly caused by streptococcus group A ("strep").
- Meningococcal disease rash is caused by Neisseria meningitides (N. meningitides) bacteria.
- Cellulitis and erysipelas are caused by bacteria, most often Staphylococcus aureus and beta-haemolytic streptococcus.
- Lymphangitis is caused by bacteria (commonly acute streptococcal infection), mycobacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites that commonly enter the body through a skin wound or as a complication of an infection.
- Ringworm is usually caused by human dermatophytes, a type of fungus.
Are Skin Rashes Contagious?
There are many types of skin rashes, some are contagious and some are not. Most of those that are contagious are caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
Infectious rashes may be transmitted a number of ways, depending on the germ.
Some are transmitted from person-to-person through respiratory droplets from propelled into the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or even breathes.
Some may also be transmitted by direct skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or by touching an object or surface with the germ on it and then touching your face or an open wound without washing your hands. Some types of germs may be transmitted through soil or even by household pets.
How Is Skin Rash Diagnosed?
Skin rashes are diagnosed with a patient history and physical examination of the skin.
Tests may be used to determine the type of rash and/or the cause:
What Is the Treatment for Skin Rash?
Treatment for skin rashes depends on the type of rash.
- Antiviral medicines, oral or topical
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines and fever reducers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or aspirin
- Do not give aspirin to children, as it can cause a dangerous condition called Reye syndrome
- Prescription pain-relievers
Additional treatment for chickenpox includes:
- Antihistamines for itching
- Skin treatments, such as calamine lotion and oatmeal baths to relieve itching
Additional treatment for shingles includes:
- Antibiotics, if the rash becomes infected
- Anti-seizure medications, tricyclic antidepressants, or capsaicin cream for postherpetic neuralgia pain
- Topical anesthetics
- Steroid injections
There is no specific treatment for measles and rubella. Treatment is aimed at relief of symptoms and may include:
- Fever reducers such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)
- Post-exposure vaccination
- Vitamin A (may reduce measles symptoms in patients who have low levels of the vitamin)
Treatment for molluscum contagiosum includes:
- Topical cantharidin
- Topical podophyllotoxin
Treatment for erythema infectiosum includes:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicines such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin)
Treatment for bacterial causes of contagious rashes such as impetigo, meningococcal disease rash caused by Neisseria meningitides, cellulitis and erysipelas, lymphangitis, and folliculitis includes:
- Topical or oral antibiotics
- Wound care for damaged skin or surgery to remove dead tissue for rash caused by Neisseria meningitides
- Surgical debridement for severe lymphangitis
Treatment for ringworm can vary depending on where on the body it occurs and includes:
- Over-the-counter antifungal products
- Prescription oral or topical antifungals
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