Is Vitiligo Contagious? The short answer is: No, Vitiligo is neither infectious nor is it contagious.
Vitiligo is a chronic skin condition that causes loss of pigment, resulting in irregular pale patches over parts of the body. The cause is believed to be a combination of auto-immune, genetic, and environmental factors. About 30% of people with Vitiligo have a family history of this skin disorder. Having a certain genetic profile makes some people more susceptible to developing this disease. Certain genes, now linked with Vitiligo, are known to be involved with immune system regulation and inflammation.
There are numerous misconceptions about Vitiligo! One of the most damaging public attitudes is that Vitiligo can be contagious. This emotive issue is more multi-faceted, though, because the signs of Vitiligo cannot always be hidden, and the effects of social stigma cannot be underestimated. It is, therefore, important to understand what a contagious disease is.
What is a Contagious Disease?
Contagious diseases are readily spread by transmission of a pathogen from an infected person to another. These diseases vary in how readily they are communicated. Historically, the term referred to a contagion (a derivative of ‘contact’) or disease transmissible only by direct physical contact. In the modern-day, the term has sometimes been broadened to encompass any communicable or infectious disease.
The difference between infection and contagion is that infection is the process of infecting while contagion is a disease spread by contact. Infectious diseases are caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Some infectious diseases can be passed from person to person, while some are transmitted by insects or other animals. You may get others by consuming contaminated food or water or from being exposed to organisms in the environment. Symptoms often include fever and fatigue.
Vitiligo presents none of these symptoms! It is a skin disorder that causes a loss of pigment in areas of the body. Smooth white spots called macules appear on the skin. It also affects the hairs in the Vitiligo-affected parts, which may turn white. The condition occurs when melanocytes (the skin cells that produce melanin, the chemical that gives skin its colour, or pigmentation) are destroyed by the body’s immune system. Academics are still not entirely sure why this happens, but ongoing research will unpeel the layers of this baffling phenomenon.
Social Stigma of Vitiligo:
In some cases, Vitiligo sufferers may develop poor self-esteem and experience stress, anxiety, and even depression. Added to this is the damaging social aspect that can intensify their dejected emotional attitude. Vitiligo can also have an effect on the quality of life, generating feelings of embarrassment and withdrawal from society. Some people have feelings of anger and hurt when confronted by a negative social incident.
Vitiligo, also known as Leukoderma, is widely classed as a dermatological disorder that has no severe medical consequences. Unfortunately, social stigma makes it a major issue for those affected by the condition. Vitiligo sufferers may have to deal with stares, offensive comments, and disrespectful remarks about their appearance.
Vitiligo in Different Cultures:
Many cultures have harsh stigmas attached to Vitiligo, which, in many parts of the world, may even hamper marriage prospects. Studies suggest that India has the highest prevalence of Vitiligo, followed by Mexico and Japan. Vitiligo patches are more visible against a darker skin tone and has often been believed to be linked with conditions like leprosy, skin cancer and albinism.
This is because there is a marked lack of awareness surrounding this condition.
Unfortunately, Vitiligo has also been associated with religious folklores. Some cultures view the Vitiligo condition as a sin, and often leads to community ostracism of the individual. Vitiligo is a hugely stigmatised condition, especially in Africa. Social, religious, and tribal factors play a significant role in stigmatisation in Africa. Vitiligo is considered by many as a curse, mystery, or spiritual attack. As a result of the myths, some families especially in rural areas find it difficult to educate their children about Vitiligo.
Dealing with these issues is a challenge people with Vitiligo face constantly. Most people try to hide the fact that they have this condition, and are faced with the difficult task of eventually telling people about their affliction.
There is a natural urge for people to confess because these secrets are really parts of their lives that have been forced into hiding. They conceal aspects of themselves that they think invite insult, but ironically, the very act of secrecy makes them inaccessible to love. People with Vitiligo sometimes end a relationship rather than tell their new friend or love interest about their disease.
A Different Perspective:
Looking at this issue from the perspective of the people who are uneasy about contact with someone who has visible white patches on their skin, there are hundreds of instances where the uninformed or fearful are confronted with a person showing signs of Vitiligo. When offered a handshake at a business meeting, how does one refuse without creating the wrong impression? Currently, during COVID-19 protocols, where social distancing efforts preclude the typical business practices, any form of person-to-person contact is suppressed anyway.
Another instance is standing in queues, or in a group. Social norms dictate that people act decently around strangers, so to try to distance oneself from someone with Vitiligo and not cause offence or distress is extremely difficult. Even the innocent act of holding hands with or kissing a romantic interest, or an embrace with a member of one’s extended family can create a stressful occurrence. These are all examples of incidences where there is fear due to a lack of information, but let’s address the other side of the coin – those who are informed!
Most importantly, efforts are afoot to increase global awareness of Vitiligo. The idea of a World Vitiligo Day was nurtured by Steve Haragadon, the founder of the Vitiligo Friends network. It was then developed and finalised by Ogo Maduewesi, a Vitiligo patient who is the founder and executive director of the Vitiligo Support and Awareness Foundation (VITSAF). In her words, “World Vitiligo Day is a day to create extensive awareness on vitiligo and a day dedicated to all living with Vitiligo globally”.
The choice of June 25 as World Vitiligo Day is a day honouring musical artist Michael Jackson, who suffered from Vitiligo from the early 1980s until his death, which occurred on June 25, 2009. The main event of the first World Vitiligo Day occurred at Silverbird Galleria’s Artrum in Lagos, Nigeria, with the participation of several volunteers with different experiences (dermatologists, motivational speakers, dancers, artists, comedians, patients), united by the common will of spreading knowledge and awareness about Vitiligo. Simultaneously, other events took place in other parts of the world, organized by local associations.
A goal of the World Vitiligo Day is to:
- recognize this disease associated with severe social complications;
- recognize the desire to pursue multilateral efforts in therapy development and healthcare education; and
- designate June 25 as the World Vitiligo Day to be observed by the United Nations and Member States every year.
Remember, Vitiligo can be Treated:
Vitiligo can be treated, and it is important to keep perceptions in line with reality! Commitment and adherence to the available treatment options are important when managing Vitiligo. Medications and light-based therapies exist to help restore skin colour or even out skin tone.
Living with Vitiligo can be challenging! After you have been diagnosed, deal with your emotions and find a solution. Get support from a reputable Vitiligo treatment specialist and embark on a specific treatment plan – one that is sustainable for you.
At Vitiligo Treatment we offer a large range of products to help treat most Vitiligo conditions. This is one of the factors that has contributed to our success in Treating Vitiligo.
We do have a combination of products formulated to treat Low, Medium, and High Vitiligo body coverage. Contact one of our consultants or read more on our website for information pertaining to your own Vitiligo condition.
As always, please don’t hesitate to contact us if you require any further information pertaining to this article – Is Vitiligo Contagious? – or require any additional detailed information on our products.
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