Coronavirus: Skin rash should be fourth key symptom of COVID-19, study says

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A skin rash should be considered the fourth key symptom of coronavirus infection, along with coughing, fever, and loss of smell, a new study has found.

Researchers using data collected by the COVID Symptom Study on 336,000 participants, a voluntary app based in the UK that allows people to log their symptoms of coronavirus, found an unusually high level of self-reported skin rash conditions.

Around 8.8 percent of people that tested positive for coronavirus also experienced a skin rash as part of their symptoms, compared to only 5.4 percent of people with a negative test result, suggesting that a rash may be consistent with COVID-19.

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Another 8.2 percent of people with a rash who had not been tested for coronavirus also reported other main symptoms of COVID-19 – cough, fever or anosmia (loss of smell) – suggesting they may have unwittingly been infected, a statement published on the COVID Symptom Study website said.

“Many viral infections can affect the skin, so it’s not surprising that we are seeing these rashes in COVID-19,” Dr. Veronique Bataille, consultant dermatologist at St. Thomas’ Hospital and King’s College London, and author in the study said, according to the statement.

“However, it is important that people know that in some cases, a rash may be the first or only symptom of the disease. So if you notice a new rash, you should take it seriously by self-isolating and getting tested as soon as possible,” she added.

Around 17 percent of respondents who tested positive for coronavirus reported a rash as the first symptoms of infection, while 21 percent – approximately one in five – of those who reported a rash were confirmed COVID-19 positive but had no other symptoms.

Coronavirus rashes fell broadly into three categories. The first was a hive type of rash with the sudden appearance of raised bumps that come and go quickly over hours and are itchy, often starting in the palms or soles and causing swelling in the lips and eyelids.

The second is a “prickly heat” chickenpox-type rash with areas of small, red, and itchy bumps that can occur anywhere on the body but particularly on the elbows, knees, and back of the hands and feet. This can last anywhere from days to weeks.

The final type highlighted in the study was “COVID fingers and toes,” characterized by red or purple colored bumps on the fingers and toes that are sore but not usually itchy. The researchers noted that this particular type of rash seemed confined to the coronavirus and it is more common in younger people and tends to develop later on during infection.

“These findings highlight the importance of keeping an eye on any new changes in your skin, such as lumps, bumps or rashes. Early reporting of COVID-associated rashes by members of the public and recognition of their significance by frontline healthcare practitioners – such as GPs [general practitioners], NHS [National Health Service] 111 and hospital staff – may increase the detection of coronavirus infections and help to stop the spread,” Dr Tanya Bleiker, President of the British Association of Dermatologists, explained in the statement.

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