Yes! But likely not the only symptom.
TL;DR: Many viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, can cause a rash, usually in addition to other more common symptoms. There have been cases of different kinds of rashes associated with COVID-19 infections, although it’s too early to tell if there is a specific Omicron rash. If you have a new rash, consult your health provider.
By now, we are all used to being on the lookout for classic COVID-19 symptoms – fever, cough, sore throat, headache, loss of taste and smell. But what about a rash??
SARS-CoV-2, like many viruses, can also cause skin symptoms. A feature of many viral infections is their sneaky ability to infect cells in our nose, throat, and lungs that activates our immune systems. To keep it simple, this immune system activation triggers a whole domino effect to produce “bad guy” fighting lymphocytes and chemicals called cytokines. Cytokines and Lymphocytes can make our bodies feel feverish, achy, and tired. When these immune reactions reach the teeny tiny blood vessels that go to our skin cells, we can also see a rash.
❓How often do people with COVID-19 get a rash?
It is not the most common symptom, but studies estimate between 1 and 20% of people with COVID-19 will have a rash.
❓What does a COVID-19 rash look like?
Again, there isn’t a lot of data published yet, and most of it is pre-Omicron. We do know there are a few common forms of COVID-19 rashes that seem to happen in people with milder forms of illness. We vividly remember when “covid toes” became a thing, don’t we? The scientific term for those dark discolored digits is “pseudo-chilblains” because of the resemblance to frost-bite. This seems to be less common with the Omicron variant.
The most common kind of rash is an itchy, red, slightly bumpy eruption – called “maculopapular” by health care providers. This tends to be located in patches on stomachs, backs, thighs and behind elbows and knees. It can pop up at any point in the timeline of COVID-19, although it’s unlikely to be the only symptom. Some people with COVID-19 report the rash and itching linger for a few weeks. While not life-threatening, this is extra-annoying. COVID-19 can also cause hives, which are itchy welts that come and go. This is more common in children with viral infections and also not specific to COVID-19.
❓If I have a rash, should I take a COVID test?
Talk to your health care provider, they can help you decide. Common non- COVID conditions, like eczema, can cause rashes. There is a lot of overlap with other possible causes. In general, if you have a symptom that is unusual for you and COULD be linked with SARS-CoV-2, Those Nerdy Girls think testing is a good idea!
❓I have a rash from COVID-19 – how can I treat it?
Like many milder symptoms of COVID, no specific treatment is needed – it will resolve with time. For people who are itchy, gentle, fragrance free moisturizer can help reduce symptoms, as can over the counter hydrocortisone products. If you are REALLY itchy, consult with your health care provider – you may be able to take oral antihistamines such as diphenhydramine to help soothe your skin.
If you had or have COVID-19 and a rash, know you are not alone!
Recent paper in the Journal of the American Dermatology Association: Heterogeneity In Skin Manifestations Of COVID-19
Paper from the Sociedade Brasileira de Dermatologia: Skin Manifestations Of COVID-19
Letter to the editor in the Journal of European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology: Estimating Incidence of COVID-19 Skin Manifestations
Prior DP post “What Are Covid Toes?”