National Psoriasis Foundation

How psoriasis spreads

November 17, 2010

Question: Is psoriasis contagious?

Answer: No, psoriasis is not contagious. This is a common misconception because of the visible nature of lesions on exposed skin, which appears very red and inflamed. In reality, psoriasis does not have a tendency to become infected, perhaps because of the rapid turnover of the cells in a psoriatic plaque. However, if the psoriasis plaques are itchy and the patient scratches or picks at the lesions to remove scales, open, cracked or raw skin areas can develop and may get infected.

Question: Since psoriasis is not contagious, how
does it spread?

Answer: Psoriasis is not contagious and it is not spread by skin-to skin contact. We do not understand all of the reasons why psoriasis appears in certain skin sites. Lesions often develop in areas of pressure such as on the elbows and knees, or on the knuckles of the hands. It can, however, appear anywhere on the body including the scalp, palms and soles, skin folds and genital areas. Trigger factors including skin injury—friction or irritation can result in the appearance of psoriasis on a certain skin site. This is called the Koebner phenomenon. Infection can also make it worse. A type of widespread psoriasis appearing as small droplike plaques all over the body may be triggered by a streptococcal sore throat (strep throat).

Elizabeth A. Abel, M.D.

Elizabeth A. Abel, M.D., is a Fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology. She is currently practicing in Mountain View California at the California Skin Institute and evaluates patients with all forms of psoriasis. Dr. Abel has served as an Advisory Board Member of the National Psoriasis Foundation, as Assistant Editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and is the 2010-2011 President of the Pacific Dermatologic Association.

Dr. Abel is a member of the Adjunct Clinical Faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine. She received her medical training at New York University and at the University of Maryland. She has over 80 publications in the peer-reviewed medical literature, and is the author of 22 book chapters and Editor of “Photochemotherapy in Dermatology”.


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