A skin rash is a possible symptom of COVID-19. The symptom has emerged in research studies of COVID-19 patients and as more is learned about the infection. See pictures of distinct types of COVID-19 rashes later in this article.
What types of skin rashes can indicate that you might have COVID-19? There are three of them, according to the COVID Symptom Study.
“Data from the COVID Symptom Study shows that characteristic skin rashes and ‘COVID fingers and toes’ should be considered as key diagnostic signs of the disease, and can occur in the absence of any other symptoms,” the project wrote on its website in a July 16, 2020 announcement.
“17% of respondents testing positive for coronavirus reported a rash as the first symptom of the disease. And for one in five people (21%) who reported a rash and were confirmed as being infected with coronavirus, the rash was their only symptom,” the researchers found.
What is the COVID Symptom Study? According to the website, it’s an app that “asks participants to log their health and any new potential symptoms of COVID-19 on a daily basis. With more than 4 million users, this represents the largest study of its kind in the world.”
“The COVID symptom study was created by doctors and scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital, the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, King’s College London and Stanford University School of Medicine, working with ZOE – a health science company,” its website says.
“This app was built in the US to support studies like the Nurses’ Health Study. This is one of the largest and longest-running scientific studies in the world with 280,000 participants stretching back to 1976…The app is now available to anyone in the US or UK who wants to help. The app will be used to study the symptoms of COVID-19 and track the spread of this virus.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Researchers Isolated Three Types of COVID-19 Rashes by Requesting Images From People With the Infection
According to the study, researchers discovered that 8.8% of people reporting a positive coronavirus swab test “had experienced a skin rash as part of their symptoms, compared with 5.4% of people with a negative test result. Similar results were seen in a further 8.2% of users with a rash who did not have a coronavirus test, but still reported classic COVID-19 symptoms, such as cough, fever or anosmia (loss of smell).”
The researchers went as far as gathering images of the rashes from nearly 12,000 people who had suspected or confirmed COVID-19. “The team particularly sought images from people of colour, who are currently under-represented in dermatology resources,” they reported.
They found these three rash types were associated with COVID-19:
1. Hive-type rash (urticaria): Sudden appearance of raised bumps on the skin which come and go quite quickly over hours and are usually very itchy. It can involve any part of the body, and often starts with intense itching of the palms or soles, and can cause swelling of the lips and eyelids. These rashes can present quite early on in the infection, but can also last a long time afterwards.
2. ‘Prickly heat’ or chickenpox-type rash (erythemato-papular or erythemato-vesicular rash): Areas of small, itchy red bumps that can occur anywhere on the body, but particularly the elbows and knees as well as the back of the hands and feet. The rash can persist for days or weeks.
3. COVID fingers and toes (chilblains): Reddish and purplish bumps on the fingers or toes, which may be sore but not usually itchy. This type of rash is most specific to COVID-19, is more common in younger people with the disease, and tends to present later on.
“Many viral infections can affect the skin, so it’s not surprising that we are seeing these rashes in COVID-19,” says study author Dr Veronique Bataille, consultant dermatologist at St Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College London. “However, it is important that people know that in some cases, a rash may be the first or only symptom of the disease. So if you notice a new rash, you should take it seriously by self-isolating and getting tested as soon as possible.”
The CDC Doesn’t List Skin Rash as a Possible Symptom of COVID-19
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has been gradually expanding its list of main COVID-19 symptoms. There are now 11 symptoms on that list. They are:
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Muscle or body aches
New loss of taste or smell
Congestion or runny nose
Nausea or vomiting
“People with COVID-19 have had a wide range of symptoms reported – ranging from mild symptoms to severe illness. Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus,” CDC reports. The list does not contain all possible COVID-19 symptoms, the CDC advises.