How do I know which virus has caused my rash?
To be honest, it's usually not important to know the exact name of the virus. And often a doctor just won't know. Blood tests can only detect some viruses, and even then they are quite slow tests, often taking a few weeks to come back.
There are a few conditions where a virus is known to cause a specific skin condition.
- Chickenpox is caused by varicella zoster. (This virus can lie dormant in your body and then come out years later as shingles.)
- Pityriasis rosea is caused by a type of herpes virus.
- Hand, foot and mouth disease is caused by Coxsackievirus and enterovirus.
- Mumps and measles are caused by the mumps and measles viruses (the virus and the illness have the same name).
- Molluscum contagiosum is caused by pox virus.
- Orf is caused by parapox virus (which starts off in sheep or lambs).
- Herpes simplex is caused by the herpes simplex virus type 1 (this is the same virus that causes cold sores); however, genital herpes is caused by herpes simplex type 2.
How does a doctor diagnose a viral skin condition?
- Usually a doctor can tell what the skin condition is, by what you tell them and by what it looks like.
- Very occasionally if there is an unusual skin problem that the doctor can't work out, they may refer you to a doctor who specialises in skin conditions (a dermatologist).
- If a rash looks like mumps or measles then sometimes a doctor will give you a blood test. This is just because it can be important to tell if you've definitely had measles or mumps in case there's an outbreak somewhere, like a school.
Further reading and references
Pityriasis rosea leaflet; British Association of Dermatologists
Mumps: guidance, data and analysis; Public Health England, April 2013
Measles: symptoms, diagnosis, complications and treatment (factsheet), 2014; Public Health England
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