Skin Problems: Contagious Rashes, Bumps, and Blisters

Reviewed on 9/3/2020


This bacterial infection causes small, red, itchy bumps that are usually painless.

What is impetigo? This bacterial infection causes small, red, itchy bumps that are usually painless. These bumps turn into blisters with dry, thick, honey-colored crusts. It usually affects infants and children, but it can affect adults who have a higher risk of complications than children.

How do you get it? From contacting an infected person, or sharing their personal items, such as towels, razors, or personal phones.

How is it treated? Sores usually heal on their own. But if they do not heal quickly, your doctor can prescribe antibiotic creams and ointments. Without treatment, serious cases can cause kidney damage.

How to prevent impetigo: Bathe every day. Keep your hands, face, and hair clean regularly. Keep children away from others who have impetigo infections. Clean and bandage wounds if you or your child develops a scratch, scrape, or bug bite.


Ringworm is a fungus that thrives in damp areas.

What is ringworm? This fungal infection is common in both children and adults. Body ringworm can appear anywhere on your skin, causing an itchy, red, ring-shaped rash. Scalp ringworm is especially contagious in children ages 2 to 10, and requires a doctor's care.

How do you get it? You can pick up ringworm by walking on locker room floors or near pools with bare feet, or by drying off with an infected person's towel. Touching someone who is infected or touching their personal items can spread the infection.

How is it treated? For most cases, over-the-counter antifungal creams, sprays, and other medications are available in many types and brands. These include clotrimazole, miconazole, terbinafine, and ketoconazole. If you are treating a child, make sure to check the label for age guidelines. Some tougher cases may need prescription antifungal medicines such as griseofulvin, itraconazole, or fluconazole.

How to prevent ringworm:

  • Wear shower shoes or sandals around pools, spas, and locker rooms
  • Wear shoes that are ventilated and leave your feet dry
  • Trim your fingernails and toenails regularly
  • Avoid sharing towels, sheets, and other personal items with anyone who has ringworm
  • If you work out, take a shower right afterward
  • Watch out for ringworm in your pets. If you think they could be infected, take them to the vet

Molluscum Contagiosum

It causes mild, small growths, often with dimpled centers.

What is molluscum contagiosum? This is a viral infection most common in kids ages 1 to 10. It causes mild, small growths, often with dimpled centers. They can be pink, white, or flesh-colored and can appear anywhere on the body, but only rarely on the palms of your hands or soles of your feet.

How do you get it? Like many other skin conditions, this virus is spread through skin-to-skin contact with an infected person, or by sharing their personal items. You can also spread this infection from one part of your body to another.

How is it treated? These bumps usually heal slowly on their own. But they can be removed by a healthcare provider to prevent them from spreading.

How to prevent molluscum contagiosum: One of the best ways to prevent the spread is to keep your children's hands clean frequently. Reminding little ones to wash up after playing helps prevent this infection.


It can cause red, swollen, painful bumps that are warm to the touch, and may drain pus.

What is MRSA? This is a bacterial infection (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) that is often mistaken for a spider bite. It can cause red, swollen, painful bumps that are warm to the touch, and may drain pus. A fever may also develop. MRSA is resistant to many common antibiotics. MRSA can affect anyone.

How do you get it? MRSA is spread by touching infected people, especially if you have an uncovered wound. Towels and razors of infected people can spread it, too.

How is it treated? MRSA is treated with specialized antibiotics. If you suspect you have MRSA, keep the infected area clean and cover it with a dry bandage. Wash your hands thoroughly, then consider contacting your doctor, particularly if you have a fever.

How to prevent MRSA:

  • Cover up cuts and scrapes with bandages until they fully heal
  • Wash your hands, especially after you change bandages or touch dirty clothes
  • Advise all, especially children, not to share towels or clothing

Chicken Pox

This viral infection causes itchy, red spots.

What is chicken pox? This viral infection causes itchy, red spots. Your face, chest, and back are the first places these spots appear before developing all over your body. It is most common in children.

How do you get it? Having close contact with an infected person is the main way people catch chicken pox.

How is it treated? Chicken pox is mainly treated at home. There are several ways to relieve the itch:

  • Calamine lotion
  • A cool bath with baking soda sprinkled in
  • Uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal

Also, be sure to keep nails trimmed. Scratching blisters can spread infection.

How to prevent chickenpox: The main and best protection is the chickenpox vaccine. The US government encourages everyone who has never had an infection before—child or adult—to get two doses of vaccine.


Folliculitis is infection of the follicles.

What is folliculitis? Folliculitis is an irritation of your hair follicles, which are microscopic sacs inside your skin that form each strand of hair. It causes tender, red bumps that may develop pus.

How do you get it? Your hair follicles can be irritated by many things, both infectious and noninfectious. These include:

  • Tight-fitting clothing or sports equipment
  • Pores blocked by moisturizer or lotion
  • Razors
  • Various infectious agents, including bacteria and yeasts
  • Poorly maintained hot tubs
  • Some medicines

How is it treated? These breakouts can go away by themselves if you stop irritating the hair follicles. A warm compress may help your skin heal more quickly, and can relieve pain. The American Academy of Dermatologists recommends a warm compress three to four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time.

How to prevent folliculitis:

  • Make sure you wash swimsuits and wetsuits after each use.
  • Make sure your clothes fit properly and don't rub against skin

Cold Sores (Fever Blisters)

Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are small sores that form around your mouth.

What are cold sores? Cold sores, also known as fever blisters, are small sores that form around your mouth. This is caused by the herpes simplex virus, a common infection. Two out of three people around the world aged under 50 have the virus, according to the WHO.

How do you get them? Cold sores are mainly spread through kissing, and through sharing foods or objects that have saliva.

How are they treated? Antiviral medications can be used to reduce the intensity and number of cold sore outbreaks, but there is no cure.

How to prevent cold sores: Avoid mouth-to-mouth contact during a cold sore outbreak, and avoid sharing toothbrushes, straws, glasses, and other personal items that come into contact with your mouth.


Tiny skin mites, so small that you cannot see them, cause scabies.

What is scabies? Tiny skin mites, so small that you cannot see them, cause scabies. Your body may react with a skin rash of tiny red bumps that are itchy, especially at night. Outbreaks tend to occur in childcare facilities, prisons, and nursing homes, according to the CDC.

How do you get it? Scabies usually spreads through skin-to-skin contact. You can also get it from sharing clothes, towels, bedding, or other personal items with someone who is infested.

How is it treated? If you have an itchy rash, a doctor can determine if it is caused by scabies. Prescription lotions and creams are available, including permethrin cream. Even after scabies mites are killed, itching can persist for weeks or months. A doctor may prescribe antihistamines or topical steroids to control the itching.

How to prevent scabies: Avoid touching anyone with an infestation. Do not share personal items with such a person.

Hand-Foot-and-Mouth Disease

Hand-foot-and-mouth disease is a viral disease that causes red spots on the palms and soles.

What is hand-foot-and-mouth disease? Red rash on hands and feet, with a fever and sore throat? These are symptoms of hand-foot-and-mouth disease, a viral infection that is sometimes mistaken for strep throat. It can also cause mouth blisters. This virus is most common in children under 10. Adults can carry the virus without showing symptoms.

How do you get it? This disease can be spread through fecal-oral transmission, caused by such things as not washing hands after changing diapers or using the restroom.

How is it treated? Children with this virus are usually treated at home, and usually recover in about a week. Your healthcare provider may recommend over-the-counter medicines to reduce pain or fever. Be careful to avoid aspirin for children 18 and under, as it may cause Reye syndrome. Ask your healthcare provider to recommend a safe mouth wash that can reduce or numb pain if needed.

How to prevent hand-foot-and-mouth disease: Remember to wash your hands after caring for your child. When they are old enough, encourage kids to wash their own hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. Keep an alcohol-based hand sanitizer handy for times when soap and water are unavailable.

Poison Ivy Rash

Poison ivy has an oily toxin that often causes a painful allergic skin reaction, as do poison oak and sumac.

What is a poison ivy rash? Outdoor fun can put you knee-deep among some irritating plants. Poison ivy has an oily toxin that often causes a painful allergic skin reaction, as do poison oak and sumac. The burning rash itches badly and might swell, and soon turns into watery blisters that may ooze, break, or crust over.

How do you get it? Rubbing your bare skin against these plants can set off an allergic reaction. Their toxic oils can also rub off on pets, toys, and clothes, causing skin contamination later. After spreading, the oil can remain potent for weeks or longer.

How is it treated? Use soap and water to remove the oil as soon as you can—ideally within 10 minutes to prevent a reaction. If a reaction occurs, antihistamines or anti-inflammatory medicines may be helpful. Discuss medication options with your healthcare provider. If the reaction is severe, with fever, headache, and widespread rashes and swelling, call your doctor right away.

How to prevent poison ivy rash: Learn to recognize the poisonous plants in your area. Control poison ivy weeds on your property, but don't burn the plant: the smoke can cause an allergic reaction. Lotions with bentoquatam can be applied to your skin for protection against toxic plant oils. Check with your doctor before using this medicine on children under age 6.

Skin Problems: Contagious Rashes, Bumps, and Blisters

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