Is Balanitis Contagious?

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

What is balanitis?

Balanitis is an inflammation of the head of the penis and/or foreskin that surrounds the head of the penis in uncircumcised men. However, not everyone agrees with this definition. For example, some consider balanitis as only inflammation of the penis head while inflammation of the foreskin is posthitis and when both structures are inflamed, the problem is referred to as balanoposthitis. For the purpose of this article, balanitis will be considered an inflammation of the head of the penis and/or surrounding foreskin.

  • Males who are predisposed to developing balanitis include those with:
  • Males who are more likely to develop balanitis include those:
    • with poor personal hygiene
    • who are sensitive to chemical irritants (for example, soaps and lubricants)
    • that have drug allergies
  • Males with diabetes are at increased risk of developing balanitis and diabetes is a very common cause of balanitis. Glucose (sugar) on the skin encourages bacterial and fungal growth, particularly males:
    • with uncontrolled diabetes (people with uncontrolled diabetes have high glucose levels in their urine), and
    • that have diabetes and take medications that causes more sugar to be excreted in the urine, for example dapagliflozin (Forxiga).
  • Balanitis can be a distinct clinical feature in men with reactive arthritis.
  • Balanitis can be caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).

Itchy Penis Causes

Itching in the area of the penis or external genital organs occurs for many of the same reasons that itching occurs elsewhere on the body. Examples of causes of penile itching includes:

  • infections (for example, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), jock itch, scabies, and pubic lice),
  • balanitis,
  • tight undergarments,
  • allergic reactions,
  • skin friction,
  • other conditions.

Is balanitis contagious?

The answer to this question is somewhat complex; not a simple yes or no.

  • Balanitis caused by the normal skin bacteria on the penis or balanitis caused by a chemical skin irritant is generally considered non-contagious.
  • Balanitis caused by certain fungi (yeast) and/or specific bacteria or viruses (including those that cause STDs such as gonorrhea) is transferable from one person directly to another person.
  • Although the actual disease balanitis usually is not transferred to other males, the organisms causing balanitis may be transferred.
  • Since some of the bacteria, fungi, or viruses that cause balanitis are contagious, balanitis could be considered "contagious" under special conditions (such as balanitis caused by STDs).

How will I know I am infected from someone that has balanitis?

If the male with whom one has had contact has balanitis caused by chemical or normal skin bacteria, it is unlikely that the disease is contagious. However, there is a significant risk of a person becoming infected if he or she has been exposed to a male who has balanitis caused by specific viruses, bacteria, or fungi such as:

The time required to develop symptoms after exposure (incubation period) differs with the different viruses, bacteria, or fungus. However, the first signs and symptoms of balanitis are:

  • redness,
  • itching,
  • swelling, and
  • tenderness of the head of the penis and its surrounding foreskin.

Other symptoms may develop, depending upon the transmitted viruses or bacteria. For example, discharge from the urethra, ulcerations, and enlarged lymph nodes are symptoms that may develop with sexually transmitted diseases. Tests for STD's and specific bacteria and viruses can help distinguish balanitis from other diseases that may mimic balanitis like herpes and gonorrhea.

How will I know if I am no longer contagious?

If you have, or have had the non-contagious type of balanitis, then you should have no concerns about being contagious. However, if balanitis was due to an infectious bacteria or virus, then you would be noncontagious after the bacteria or virus was "treated and cured." Antibiotics and topical creams are used to treat balanitis. The time frame for complete recovery varies according to the nature of the infectious agent.

When should individuals seek medical care for balanitis?

Medical care should be sought for any redness, swelling and/or irritation of the penis and/or foreskin. Health-care professionals can help individuals with treatment of both noncontagious and contagious causes of balanitis, and determining the cause of balanitis.

Complications of balanitis include constriction of the opening of the urethra (phimosis) and severe urinary obstruction. These complications can require emergency treatment. Some with balanitis may require consultation with a urologist.

Balanitis caused by bacteria, yeast or other organisms that are resistant to treatment may not be easily cured.

Persistent symptoms of balanitis should be evaluated by a health-care professional.

Treatment for common yeast-caused balanitis is topical canesten 1% cream (clotrimazole, Lotrimin); recommended treatment time varies from about 2 weeks to 1 month. Lotrisone (combination of betamethasone and clotrimazole) has also been used.

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Medically Reviewed on 10/30/2017

Leber, MJ. MD. "Balanitis Clinical Presentation." Mescape. Updated: Aug 24, 2017.

Osipov, VO., MD. "Balanoposthitis." Medscape. Updated Juy 13, 2017.