Is Lupus 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.

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What is lupus?

Lupus is a general term that refers to any of the various chronic inflammatory diseases that are marked by inflammation of the skin and are caused by autoimmunity. Classic lupus is also termed systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and typically initially appears as a rash accompanied by joint pain and fever. There are many subclasses of lupus.

Is lupus contagious?

Lupus is not contagious. Lupus cannot be transferred from one person to another by touching the skin lesions or by physical contact. The specific cause of lupus is not known, but many genetic predispositions (HLA types, regulatory genes) and gene-environment interactions (UV exposure, the immune system's response to microbes and/or drugs) have been identified that predispose individuals to develop this autoimmune disease.

How will someone know if he or she has lupus?

If a person has an onset of joint pain, fever, and a rash, lupus is considered as a possible cause. If the person is pregnant or if there is a family history of lupus or any autoimmune disease, the diagnosis of SLE becomes more likely. However the American College of Rheumatology has developed criteria that can be helpful in diagnosing the systemic form of lupus (SLE). There are 11 diagnostic basic criteria. When an individual has at least four of these criterions, they are likely to have systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Briefly, the following is a list of the 11 criteria:

  • Serositis (inflammation of the lining of the lungs or abdomen)
  • Oral ulcers
  • Arthritis (inflammation of many joints)
  • Photosensitivity (rash after sun exposure)
  • Blood disorders (low white, red, or platelet blood counts)
  • Kidney problems (renal failure)
  • Gastrointestinal problems (nausea, abdominal pain)
  • Antinuclear antibodies (ANAs)
  • Immunologic abnormalities (DNA antibody, cardiolipin antibody, false positive VDRL)
  • Neurologic disorder (seizures or psychosis)
  • Cardiac problems (pericarditis, myocarditis)
  • Facial cheek reddish rash (malar rash)
  • Focal areas of hyper- and hypopigmentation and scarring (discoid rash)

The diagnosis is usually made by a medical caregiver skilled in the diagnosis of lupus (such as rheumatologists or dermatologists).

Quick GuideLupus Symptoms, Rash, and Treatment

Lupus Symptoms, Rash, and Treatment

Lupus Treatment

The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and protect organs by decreasing inflammation and/or the level of autoimmune activity in the body. The precise treatment is decided on an individual basis. Many people with mild symptoms may need no treatment or only intermittent courses of anti-inflammatory medications.

Can lupus spread?

Lupus does not spread from one individual to another. However, in an individual, the manifestations of the disease and their severity may increase in intensity and location over time.

Is there a cure for lupus?

There is no cure for lupus. Fortunately, there are many different drugs that can be used to reduce symptoms and control the disease. Treatments are individualized usually by the specialist, such as a rheumatologist for joint and internal organ problems, dermatologist for skin problems and/or other specialists depending upon what organ system is affected.

When should someone seek medical care for lupus?

If a person suspects that they may have risk factors and some symptoms (see criteria above) of SLE, the individual should seek medical care quickly. The earlier the person is diagnosed and begins treatment, the better the outcome for the patient. Early intervention that reduces lupus inflammation helps protect body organs.

REFERENCES:

Bartels, Christie M. "Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)." Medscape.com. Feb. 19, 2014. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/332244-overview>.

"Treating Lupus." Lupus.org. July 25, 2013. <http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/how-is-lupus-treated>.

"Understanding Lupus." Lupus.org. July 18, 2013. <http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/is-lupus-contagious>.

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Reviewed on 8/16/2016
References
REFERENCES:

Bartels, Christie M. "Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE)." Medscape.com. Feb. 19, 2014. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/332244-overview>.

"Treating Lupus." Lupus.org. July 25, 2013. <http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/how-is-lupus-treated>.

"Understanding Lupus." Lupus.org. July 18, 2013. <http://www.lupus.org/answers/entry/is-lupus-contagious>.

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