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5 Contagious Skin Conditions You Should Definitely Try to Prevent


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Scabies is a contagious, intensely itchy rash caused by a tiny, burrowing mite. The eight-legged bug is so small that it is not visible to the naked eye. It lives in and feeds on the top layer of skin. Most of the time, scabies is the result of direct skin-to-skin contact. This means anything from intimate situations to a brush against an infected stranger in a store or subway. Germophobes be on the lookout for other sources of infestation such as bedding, clothes, and eek, furniture—the mite can live up to three days without human contact. Anyone and everyone can get it. (There are even more reasons to keep you space clean, too).

How to ID: An unrelenting itch is the most common symptom. The rash is usually made of little bumps, that can resemble bites, all over, but most concentrated on the wrists, belt line, genitals, and nipples. Little lines or burrows in the finger web spaces are a huge diagnostic clue.

How to treat: To make a definitive diagnosis your dermatologist may use a sharp edge to scrape off skin cells so the lab can put them on a slide and look under the microscope to see the bug. This does not hurt at all. Once confirmed, the treatment most commonly consists of applying an anti-mite lotion from the neck down, leaving it on overnight, and washing off in the a.m., then repeating the process one week later. All household contacts and recent sexual partners should be treated as well. Pajamas (any other potentially infested clothing) and sheets should be washed in hot water and dried in high heat.

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Impetigo is a skin infection caused most commonly by the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus. The classic honey-colored crusts, which usually occur on the face around the mouth or nose, are common in athletes who engage in contact sports (See: 8 Ways Exercise Affects Your Skin). It can also be passed along through kissing a partner who has coarse facial hair. Bacteria love beards. Because we carry staph under our nails, scratching a patch of eczema or otherwise inflamed skin can also give the bacteria an easy way in.

How to ID: Flaccid blisters or adherent yellow crusts are impetigo until proven otherwise. Your doctor may do a culture to confirm the presence of bacteria, or she may just treat you if her suspicion is high enough.

How to treat: A topical or oral antibiotic for a week to 10 days.

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Molluscum Contagiosum

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Molluscum contagiosum (MC) is a virus most commonly seen in children, but it can definitely occur in adults as well. MC involving the genitals generally results from sexual contact (skin to skin that is, it is not in vaginal or seminal secretions). The bumps are super contagious, hence the name. Towels and any other wet surface area are a breeding ground for MC. (Here's how to wash your workout clothes properly).

How to ID: MC are raised, round, flesh-colored, monomorphic bumps, typically smaller than 6 millimeters, with a central dell. They can be itchy, inflamed, and easily removed by scratching or rubbing, but this also makes the virus spread like wildfire, so be very careful.

How to treat: Although they may stress you out, MC are completely innocuous. Eventually, usually between three and six months, the immune system will kick in to get rid of the virus naturally. To help things along, your dermatologist may use a solution derived from a blister beetle, liquid nitrogen, or other immune-stimulating creams. Curetting the bumps gently to release the central core can make them resolve more quickly as well.

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Warts are children of the well known human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV can cause cervical cancer, common warts that occur on the hands/feet, and genital warts. The good news is that warts are not cancerous, they are benign lesions. The bad news is that there is no quick cure. Warts are contagious and spread by contact with the wart or anything it has touched—nowhere is sacred. This is what makes me look scrupulously before a firm handshake. If you are a nail biter or picker, you may be more susceptible. Needless to say, the horizontal tango is a reliable source of spread in the genital area.

How to ID: Warts have many forms. A flesh-colored, hard bump with black dots, a soft lesion similar to a skin tag, clusters on the bottom of the feet that may mimic calluses, or flat warts so tiny that they may be barely perceptible to the naked eye.

How to treat: Like molluscum, warts ultimately require the cooperation of our immune system. At-home treatment may include salicylic acid plasters, duct tape, and sanding down with a fine-grit sandpaper. In-office treatments include liquid nitrogen, a solution derived from a blister beetle, surgical destruction, or immune stimulating creams/injections. Safe sex to prevent spread is the best precaution against genital warts.

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Herpes Simplex Virus

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Herpes simplex virus (HSV), is generally categorized into two types: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is usually spread from oral-to-oral contact (roughly 67 percent of the world's population has it), while HSV-2 is more often a result of sexual contact—although either subtype can result for either source. Once infected it is a lifelong sentence, although there are periods of exacerbation and remissions (sometimes with many, many, many years in between). Transmission can happen even when there is no active lesion, a circumstance known as asymptomatic viral shedding.

How to ID: HSV is known to many as a typical cold sore. A tingling or burning sensation may precede the outbreak. Inevitably if left untreated, painful, clustered blisters that sit on a pink or red inflamed base occur. In the genital area, one may notice lymph nodes or even pain with urination in addition to the sores. In severe cases, flu-like symptoms can complicate the picture.

How to treat: An oral antiviral medication and safe sex to prevent further spread.

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