Many people have experienced an occasional skin rash or unexplained mark. Some conditions that affect your skin are very contagious. Take a moment to learn about contagious skin conditions that affect adults and children.
Contagious Skin Diseases in Adults
These contagious skin rashes are more common in adults than children:
Herpes is a sexually transmitted infection. It can be caused by either herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) or herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2).
If you contract herpes, you may develop blisters around your mouth, genitals, or rectum. A herpes infection on your face or mouth is known as oral herpes or cold sores. An infection around your genitals or rectum is known as genital herpes. Many people with herpes develop mild symptoms or none at all.
Oral herpes can spread through something as simple as a kiss. You can contract genital herpes through vaginal, anal, or oral sex. If you have herpes, you can spread it to other people, even if you don’t have symptoms.
Shingles in adults is caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which is the same virus that causes chickenpox in children. If you’ve already had chickenpox, the virus can cause a painful rash of fluid-filled blisters to appear on one side of your face or body. It most often appears as a single stripe that wraps around the left or right side of your torso.
If you’ve never had chickenpox, you can develop it after touching the fluid from inside a shingles blister. Shingles is less contagious than chickenpox. Your risk of spreading the virus is low if you cover your shingle blisters. Once your blisters scab over, they’re no longer contagious.
Genital yeast infections affect both women and men. They’re caused by an overgrowth of the Candida fungus, which is normally present all over your body. If you have a vulvovaginal yeast infection, you may develop a rash around your vulva. If you have a yeast infection on your penis, the head of your penis may become inflamed. Yeast infections can be spread through sexual contact.
To treat a yeast infection, your doctor may recommend an antifungal medication.
Contagious Skin Diseases in Children
These contagious rashes are more common in children than adults:
Thrush is also caused by an overgrowth of the Candida fungus. It can cause white lesions to appear on your child’s tongue and inner cheeks. It can also affect older adults, people with compromised immune systems, and people who take certain medications.
If you give birth while you have a vaginal yeast infection, your baby may develop thrush. Your baby may also develop it after sharing a bottle or pacifier with someone who has thrush.
Your baby’s doctor will probably prescribe a topical antifungal medication.
Diaper rash usually isn’t contagious, but sometimes it is. When it’s caused by a fungal or bacterial infection, it can spread to other areas of your child’s body or other people.
Use good hygiene to stop the spread of infection. Keep your baby in clean and dry diapers. Wash your hands after changing them.
Contagious Skin Diseases in Both Adults and Children
These skin diseases can be shared by adults and children alike:
Poison Ivy Rash
After touching a poison ivy plant, your child can develop a painful, itchy rash of blisters. This rash is caused by an allergic reaction to oil in the plant. Poison oak and poison sumac can cause similar reactions.
If small amounts of the oil remain on your child’s clothes, skin, or fingernails, they can spread it to other people. If your child develops a poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac rash, wash their clothes, shoes, and affected areas of their skin with soap and water.
You can usually use hydrocortisone ointment to ease your child’s discomfort until their symptoms clear. If their rash gets worse, seek medical attention.
Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) Infection
MRSA stands for “methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus.” It’s a type of bacteria that’s resistant to many antibiotics.
If you develop an MRSA infection after visiting a hospital, it’s known as healthcare associated-MRSA. If you pick it up from the wider community, it’s known as community-associated MRSA (CA-MRSA).
A CA-MRSA infection usually starts with a painful boil on your skin. You may mistake it for a spider bite. It might be accompanied by fever, pus, or drainage. It can be spread through skin-to-skin contact, as well as through contact with infected products, such as a razor or towel.
Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect you have an MRSA infection. In most cases, they can treat it with an antibiotic.
Scabies is caused by a tiny mite that burrows into your skin and lays eggs. It causes intense itching and a rash that looks like pimples. The rash eventually scabs over.
Scabies is passed through prolonged skin-to-skin contact. Anyone with crusted scabs is considered especially contagious. Child and adult care centers are common sites of scabies outbreaks. If someone in your house gets scabies, it's easily spread. On the other hand, you probably won't pick up scabies by casually brushing against someone who has it on the subway.
You’ll need prescription medicine to treat a scabies infection.
Molluscum Contagiosum (MC)
Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a viral skin infection that's common in children, but it can affect adults. It causes a rash of small pink or white wart-like bumps. It isn't very harmful, and many parents might not even realize their kid has it.
The MC virus thrives in hot, humid conditions. It's common among swimmers and gymnasts. You can catch it from contaminated water or even a towel at a community pool.
Most of the time, MC clears on its own without treatment.
Ringworm is caused by a fungus. This fungus is known for living on gym mats and causing jock itch. It’s also the cause of athlete's foot. If it affects your scalp, it can cause a scaly round patch and hair loss on the side of your head. This happens more commonly in children.
Ringworm can be spread through skin-to-skin contact. You can contract it by touching contaminated objects, such as hair accessories, clothing, or towels. It can also pass from animals to humans, so watch out for hairless patches on your family pets.
To treat ringworm, your doctor will prescribe antifungal medications. If your child develops a ringworm infection on their scalp, a prescription-strength medicated shampoo is also available.
Impetigo primarily affects infants and children, but adults can get it too. It usually causes red sores to appear around the nose and mouth. The sores may burst or crust over.
Impetigo is highly contagious until you receive antibiotics to treat it or your sores go away on their own.
Practicing Good Hygiene
Practice good hygiene to avoid catching or spreading contagious skin diseases. Wash your hands regularly with soap and water. Don’t share any clothing, hair items, or towels with other people. You should also change and launder all of your bed sheets and pillowcases weekly to help prevent the spread of contagious conditions. Teach your children to practice these precautions too.
If you or your child develops a skin rash, make an appointment with your doctor. They can help identify the cause and prescribe appropriate treatment.