Viruses are known to cause many healthy problems, including some skin diseases. Measles, rubella, chickenpox, shingles, smallpox and cowpox are probably the most common skin problems caused by viruses.
Chickenpox and Shingles
Varicella or chickenpox and shingles (Herpes zoster) are both caused by a DNA virus belonging to the herpes viruses, called Varicella-Zoster virus (VZV). Chickenpox is extremely contagious and can be transmitted by respiratory droplets from an infected person. On the skin of these patients, there are fluid filled lesions in the shape of teardrops. They usually first appear on the scalp and the trunk of the body and after that they start to spread, affecting the face, arms and legs. Chickenpox vaccine is the way to prevent this disease.
Shingles is also a very contagious viral disease. It appears in adult people and doctors believe that shingles actually represents recurrence of chickenpox. Antiviral drug acyclovir is a commonly prescribed treatment for shingles.
Vaccinia or cowpox is caused by a DNA virus which may affect humans and barnyard animals. Both people and animals develop skin lesions after infection with the virus.
German measles or rubella are caused by a RNA virus. This skin disease usually appears as mild skin rash (known as exanthema) on the trunk, but it can also spread to other parts of the body. Rubella can be transmitted to embryo growing in the womb and affect unborn children. It is known to damage the ears, eyes and heart of newborns and this condition is called congenital rubella syndrome.
A person may be immune to rubella if he/she has received MMR vaccine containing attenuated rubella virus. This vaccine also works as immunization against measles and mumps.
Measles or rubeola is also caused by a RNA virus. This disease can be spread via respiratory droplets when infected person coughs. Patients suffering from measles have characteristic red spots with white centers, known as Koplik spots, usually on the cheeks, lips and on the gums. There is also some skin rash on the forehead and then on the arms, trunk and legs. Measles may complicate further and lead to measles encephalitis or subacute sclerosing panencephalitis or SSPE. As already mentioned MMR vaccine will make a person immune to this disease, too.
DNA poxvirus is known to cause molluscum contagiosum. A person affected by this virus will have flesh colored lesion on the skin which are not painful. Anyone having this disease may transfer it to another person by skin contact.
Smallpox was known as the cause of death for centuries. Patients experienced skin lesions filled with pus throughout the body. Doctors were unable to help these people and they usually died after some time. However, this disease is now eradicated and no new cases have been reported since 1977.
Papilloma viruses are the cause of warts. Most of the warts are benign, but there are also some identified to be forerunners of malignant changes of the skin. There are also some genital warts, transmitted through sexual contact with an infected person.