Worrisome Skin Rashes Could Signal COVID-19

At the beginning of the pandemic, experts warned the three main symptoms of COVID-19 were fever, shortness of breath, and coughing. But as the disease unfolded, insidious and strange new side effects arose, including new loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, and headache.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists more than 10 symptoms that might signal a COVID-19 infection. The CDC admits the symptoms might not cover all possibilities and says it will continue to update the list as agency infectious disease experts learn more about the disease.

According to Health, one potential sign of COVID-19 that is not included on the CDC list are skin rashes. A recent study published in the British Journal of Dermatology found a direct association between skin rashes and positive COVID-19 swab test results. Data gathered on the COVID Symptom Study app revealed that 8.5% of people who tested positive for the virus developed these reactions.

The study authors said 47% of people noticed rashes at the same time other COVID-19 symptoms appeared. Oddly, 17% said the rashes erupted before any of the other typical signs were noticed. According to Health, 21% of the people said their rash was the only symptom of COVID-19 they experienced.

According to The Hospitalist, skin manifestations were observed in one-fifth of a group of patients with COVID-19 in the Alessandro Manzoni Hospital in Lecco, in northern Italy.

Dermatologists were pulled from their regular duties to observe the unusual symptoms in 148 COVID-19 patients. They found 20.5% developed skin symptoms, according to The Hospitalist.

Some patients exhibited skin eruptions at the onset of the disease while others developed them after hospitalization. The doctors found 78% of the patients with skin symptoms had red rashes while others had widespread urticaria — round, red welts on the skin that can itch intensely. The trunk of the body was the most affected area.

To help people identify what a COVID-19 rash might look like, and using the pictures that the survey respondents had submitted, the British researchers worked with the British Association of Dermatologists (BAD) to create a catalog of images of the most reported skin manifestations of COVID-19, according to Health.

Here are some of the most common skin symptoms of COVID-19:

  • COVID-19 digits. COVID-19 toes and fingers look like they have been frostbitten and may appear red and purple. According to Health, the digits are sore but not itchy.
  • Head and chest eczema. These rashes appear on skin that is exposed to sunlight and are pink and itchy. Dermatologists say people who experience this form of eczema usually have no previous history of skin conditions.
  • Oral rash. The BAD report says COVID-19 can cause soreness in the mouth and on the lips.
  • Pityriasis rosea. According to the Mayo Clinic, this rash begins as a circular or oval spot on the chest and can grow up to four inches. In COVID-19 patients, the rash can last several months before clearing up.

According to Weill Cornell Medicine, patients who are hospitalized with more severe cases of COVID-19 have exhibited even more skin symptoms. One condition is a “lacy, purple, bruise-like rash that occurs in critically ill patients,” says Dr. Joanna Harp, a dermatologist at Weill Cornell Medicine who specializes in complex dermatology related to internal disease.

“The skin can be a window into what is happening internally,” Dr. Harp said. “There is so much we don’t know about COVID-19, but we are learning about various skin conditions that may be associated with the virus.”

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