Is Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) Contagious? | myHSteam

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Is Hidradenitis Suppurativa Contagious?

Medically reviewed by Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A.
Written by Nyaka Mwanza
Posted on October 19, 2021

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is an inflammatory skin condition known for deep abscesses or scar tissue in the armpits and groin that can cause severe pain and impact a person’s quality of life. Misconceptions and stigma about the condition abound, including the common myth that HS is contagious.

“It’s not easy explaining HS to people without sounding like you have an STD [sexually transmitted disease] or some form of contagious disease,” a member of myHSteam said. Another member shared their struggles: “No one understands what you go through, and when you try to explain it to people, they look at you like you’re contagious or something.”

Hidradenitis Suppurativa Is Not Contagious

Despite misconceptions, hidradenitis suppurativa, sometimes called acne inversa, is not contagious. HS is not an infectious disease, and a person cannot catch or spread HS by being in close contact with a person who has it. Likewise, HS is not a sexually transmitted disease, nor is it caused by poor hygiene.

Because HS leads to acne-like wounds, some secondary bacterial infections of the skin (such as staph or strep) can develop. These infections can sometimes be contagious. If you have HS and an HS-related infection occurs, keep the area clean, dry, and dressed and see a health care provider.

What Causes Hidradenitis Suppurativa?

Scientists are not entirely certain what causes HS. The current consensus is that HS is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental risk factors.

Who Gets Hidradenitis Suppurativa?

HS was previously considered a rare disease. However, an estimated 1 percent to 2 percent of people in the United States — as many as 13 million people — may be living with HS. HS tends to affect people between puberty and 40 years of age. HS impacts women three times more than it does men, according to Hope for HS. In the United States, the condition is most common among African American women, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association.

Known Risk Factors for Developing Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Certain risk factors may increase the risk of developing HS, including:

  • Cigarette smoking — As many as 70 percent to 90 percent of people with HS are current or past cigarette smokers.
  • Psoriasis — People with psoriasis, an inflammatory autoimmune disease that causes a person’s skin cells to grow too quickly, are also at higher risk of HS.
  • Family history — Researchers believe that there is a genetic component to developing HS. Approximately one-third of people with HS have a family history of the condition.
  • Obesity — Excess weight further contributes to inflammation in the body, which can add to the inflammation that drives HS symptoms. Being obese or overweight may increase risk of and severity of HS symptoms.

How Misconceptions and Stigma Impact People With Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Stigmatization — social disapproval based on a particular attribute — is a common experience among people with HS, even more so than for people with other skin conditions. People with HS report higher stigmatization when their affected areas are more severe and visible, as well.

Those with HS report experiencing stigma in varying forms, such as people avoiding physical contact. These experiences can lead to several issues.

Social Isolation

Feelings of shame and embarrassment can lead to social withdrawal or social isolation. One myHSteam member shared, “I don’t date anymore because they all think my HS is gross and contagious or an STD.” Another said, “I become very reclusive when I have bad flare-ups.”

Embarrassment and Low Self-Esteem

Stigma can have a massive impact on a person’s psychological health and social functioning, which can affect self-esteem. One member said, “I still haven’t told my boyfriend about my diagnosis, and I’m really anxious and scared.”

“I find it really difficult to be intimate,” another member said. “I’m so embarrassed about all of my scars.” Another member agreed: “My flares are in my groin, inner thigh, and buttocks area, so it was really hard and embarrassing to be intimate with the pain, odor, and leakage.”

Psychiatric Diagnoses

Stigma is a big contributor to psychiatric issues such as depression and anxiety, which are commonly seen in people with HS. “I have low-level depression and anger. This is largely due to hidradenitis,” said one member. Another member said, “I never had depression until I got this disease! It is very mentally difficult.”

Delayed Diagnosis and Poorer Prognosis

HS is frequently underdiagnosed. On average, people see 15 doctors over seven years before having their HS accurately diagnosed. “I’ve had medical professionals who didn’t have a clue about HS,” said one member.

Not having answers can lead to further feelings of shame, embarrassment, and confusion around contagion. Delays in diagnosis also mean that a person’s condition may progress from mild to more severe stages. In a vicious cycle, severe symptoms may contribute to stress, which contributes to worsened mental and physical health.

Learn more about how HS can affect your mental health.

You Are Not Alone

You don’t have to feel isolated or alone. On myHSteam, the social network for people with hidradenitis suppurativa and their loved ones, more than 22,500 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their experiences with others who understand life with hidradenitis suppurativa.

Have you had to explain that your condition isn’t contagious? What advice do you have for others? Share your thoughts in the comments below or by posting on myHSteam.

Posted on October 19, 2021
All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.

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Ariel D. Teitel, M.D., M.B.A. is the clinical associate professor of medicine at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here
Nyaka Mwanza has worked with large global health nonprofits focused on improving health outcomes for women and children. Learn more about her here

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