When people see my psoriasis, I know some of them must wonder whether it’s contagious. Medical science has long debunked this myth, but unfortunately not everyone knows that.
To combat the persistent lack of psoriasis awareness, I wish I could wear a sign that says, “Psoriasis is not contagious.”
That sign would have served me well when I was growing up, back when I had more psoriasis on my body and felt much more self-conscious about it.
Hurtful Reactions to My Psoriasis
Not many who see my psoriasis have the nerve to ask, “Is that contagious?” Some just keep their distance. Others who are more bold or curious might ask, “Do you have poison ivy?” or “Where did you get that rash?”
Others have blurted out ignorant comments. In my high school locker room, a student athlete from another sport asked if I had AIDS as he shied away from me. Sadly, I couldn’t hide my skin while changing for track practice that day.
When I was growing up, the lack of support at home made everything harder. My brother teased me, as siblings sometimes do, worsening my negative sense of self. Our parents weren’t around much to stick up for me because they both needed to work long hours to support the family.
Psoriasis: A Noncontagious, Immune-Mediated Disease
Contagious rashes like ringworm or shingles are generally caused by viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Psoriasis is not linked to any of these things: It’s the result of genetics and an overactive immune system.
The National Psoriasis Foundation calls it an “immune-mediated” disease, adding that “while scientists do not know what exactly causes psoriasis, we do know that the immune system and genetics play major roles in its development. One thing we do know: Psoriasis is not contagious. You cannot catch psoriasis from another person.”
The American Academy of Dermatology also affirms that “psoriasis is not contagious. Unlike chickenpox or a cold, you cannot catch psoriasis from someone.”
Millenia of Misunderstanding
Since ancient times, people have recoiled at skin diseases. For a graduate school project, I researched “leprosy” during biblical times. I found that any number of diseases that discolored the skin were called “leprosy,” with some historians conjecturing that psoriasis fit the description.
The Bible describes how people who were thought to have one of these skin conditions were required to live outside of the community. As outcasts, they had to cry out “unclean!” when others passed by.
I’ve often wondered what my life would have been like if I lived back then. It’s hard enough now.
Much More Than Skin Deep
People’s negative reactions to my skin are etched in my memory, scarring me. Collectively, I took them as saying that I needed to hide my psoriasis or risk becoming an outcast. I felt annoyed at the insensitivity of others, especially strangers who felt compelled to randomly comment on my skin, either out of fear or ignorance.
“Psoriasis is more than skin deep” is a message that deeply resonates with me. Psoriasis impacts every aspect of my life, including my emotions and relationships. The thought that those around me might think I’m contagious is distressing. I still wonder if people avoid me because of that concern.
The Truth Helped Set Me Free
As I grew older and learned more about psoriasis, the realization that I’m not to blame for my condition or liable to spread it to others gradually overcame any negativity I encountered.
I realized how far I’d come when I chose to wear short sleeves and shorts on a hot summer day. It felt awkward at first. I distinctly remember psoriasis showing on my lower legs while visiting my parents in Southern California and eating with them at a Mexican restaurant. But I didn’t focus on whether people stared at my legs, choosing instead to enjoy the time with family.
Now when people ask about my skin, I don’t react like I did before. As a patient advocate, I’m eager to share information about psoriasis when people have questions. If someone blurts out an insensitive comment, I try to be gracious.
Even so, it’s difficult knowing I stand out because of a skin disease that people might misconstrue as contagious. If I can’t wear a sign that says it’s not, I’ll do my best to live freely and educate others.