Psoriasis is not contagious. However, the most visible symptoms of psoriasis – red, inflamed patches of skin, plaques, and dry skin – are often mistaken for rashes caused by viruses and bacteria that can be transmitted from one person to another. Here are the facts to help quash this harmful misconception.
Why Psoriasis is Not Contagious
Although there is still a lot we don’t know about psoriasis, research performed over the last couple of decades has shed a lot of light on what is actually happened under the skin of a person with the condition.
It is widely agreed that psoriasis is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system attacks healthy cells in the body. Other autoimmune diseases include multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, lupus, celiac disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and many others.
When it comes to psoriasis, it seems likely that the immune system is overactive, producing skin cells at a far quicker rate than is normal. The body is unable to shed the excess skin cells, resulting in plaques forming on the skin. Inflammation, one of the key characteristics of the immune system, also contributes to the visible symptoms of psoriasis.
Quite why the immune system behaved this way remains largely a mystery. Something triggers the immune system to attack certain cells in certain parts of the body. It is thought that a complicated combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors define your risk of developing autoimmune diseases, and that viruses and bacteria may act as triggers.
While viruses and bacteria may trigger autoimmune diseases, the symptoms of psoriasis are not rashes that are directly caused by viruses and bacteria in the way symptoms of herpes, chickenpox, and measles are. The latter three, along with other infections, are contagious.
Quite simply: psoriasis is not contagious. There is no reason to keep your distance from someone with psoriasis, to avoid shaking their hand, or to worry about sharing a swimming pool with them.
Basically, there’s no reason to treat someone with psoriasis any differently than you would anyone else.
Read about the different forms of psoriasis here:
Why Misconceptions About Psoriasis Matter
People living with psoriasis have long had to deal with discrimination. The condition is still erroneously associated with leprosy, a contagious skin condition that has been stigmatized since biblical times when “lepers” were exiled from villages.
While people with psoriasis may not be exiled in quite the same way today, many are still made to feel isolated from the rest of society.
A perfect example can be found in the results of a survey published last year; 40% of the participants would not want to shake hands with someone living with psoriasis.
More than half would not want to date someone with the condition. One-third would not even want someone with psoriasis in their home.
The impact such discrimination has on the lives of people living with psoriasis is reflected in the World Psoriasis Happiness Report, a joint venture from The Happiness Research Institute and LEO Innovation Lab that is based on responses from nearly a quarter of a million people living with psoriasis.
The number of people living with psoriasis who report being lonely, stressed, and miserable is vastly greater than the general population, particularly in certain countries. The US, the UK, Australia, and China are among those that rank poorly in several categories.
“When I had severe flare-ups I simply didn’t want to leave the house. Psoriasis affected my self-esteem – when people were staring and making comments to me or their friends, it stressed me out and created a lot of anxiety”
– Marie, PsoHappy participant
A 2010 study found people living with psoriasis are 39% and 31% more likely than the general population to be diagnosed with depression and anxiety respectively.
It is suspected that the increased risk of mental illness may be linked to the underlying mechanisms of psoriasis, namely inflammation.
While that may be true, the stress and loneliness caused by social isolation must surely play a significant role. That was the case for Howard Chang, who shared his story on this blog last year. He wrote:
“The social ostracism led to greater isolation. I attributed my quite anxious demeanor to my shy personality. But in reality, I wanted to hide away from most everyone except my closest friends.”
You can read his entire post here:
What’s more, stress is one of the most common triggers for psoriasis flare-ups. The stress caused by discrimination can create a vicious circle in which the physical and mental symptoms exacerbate one-another.
The cycle can be an extremely difficult one to break. A wider understanding of psoriasis would help lessen the stigma, which in turn would reduce the likelihood of social isolation, loneliness, stress, anxiety, depression, and other such consequences people with psoriasis face.
What You Can Do
Generally speaking, people do not discriminate against those living with psoriasis out of malice. Rather, it is usually a consequence of not understanding the condition and instinctively exercising caution. After all, no one wants to catch a contagious skin rash.
If you have a friend or family member with psoriasis, there is plenty of advice online about steps you can take to support them. Not least, learning at least the basics about psoriasis will put you in a much better position to speak to them openly and sensitively.
Surveys, such as those cited in this article, have found that misconceptions are most commonly believed by those who do not know somebody with psoriasis. The concern about it being contagious is perhaps the most common and the most harmful myth.
Even if you know little else about it, simply knowing that psoriasis is not contagious can help you avoid treating someone in a way that makes them feel isolated. With that in mind, the best thing you can do if you learn someone has psoriasis, is to not allow that information to dictate how you behave towards them.
That doesn’t mean you have to avoid the subject or avoid asking questions (if appropriate and done respectfully, many people will appreciate your desire to learn about the condition they live with). All it means is that, regardless of anything else, your actions should always reflect one piece of knowledge:
Psoriasis is not contagious.
With each person that learns this one simple fact, a little more of the stigma surrounding psoriasis is chipped away.
Take a look at some of the other posts on the MyTherapy blog: