As we learn more about the current global pandemic, it's becoming clear that symptoms of the novel coronavirus not only vary dramatically from person to person but are more wide-ranging than originally believed, with loss of smell and taste going hand-in-hand with high fevers and dry coughs. According to recent cases documented by coronavirus patients and the doctors treating them, there may be yet another surprising symptom of COVID-19: skin rashes. From reports of blue and purple discolouration in toes to sensitive blisters, as well as cases of gangrene and vascular lesions, visible signs of the coronavirus on skin are being observed more frequently.
Joshua Zeichner, MD, board-certified dermatologist and Director of Cosmetic and Clinical Research at Mount Sinai Hospital’s Department of Dermatology in New York, detailed to Refinery29 the various “skin changes” that COVID-19 patients have reported seeing on their bodies. This includes “non-specific findings [like] welts or hives, a red rash similar to what is seen with other viral infections, and small bruise-like rashes," Dr Zeichner says. "Frostbite-like changes in the toes and a lace-like red rash known as livedo reticularis have also been observed.”
The concern over skin rashes as a symptom became more prevalent following findings from Italy in a report titled “Cutaneous manifestations in COVID-19: a first perspective,” compiled by Dr Sebastiano Recalcati of the Department of Dermatology at Alessandro Manzoni Hospital in Lecco and shared with Refinery29. Doctors concluded that only 18 of 88 observed coronavirus-positive patients, or 20.4%, had skin rashes either at the onset of the illness or following hospitalisation.
Those numbers might not seem particularly compelling, but what they do prove is the need for more research into the ways COVID-19 might present on the skin as the virus progresses around the world. “We still do not know whether a rash will predict the course of the infection or how severe it will be,” Dr Zeichner says — just as a person coughing or experiencing body aches doesn't provide much meaningful information about their condition.
In light of the new information, the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) has started a global registry for health-care professionals to document any dermatologic symptoms experienced by their patients infected with the coronavirus. “Our hope is that information you and others provide will help us understand dermatologic manifestations of the COVID-19 virus,” the homepage reads. The registry encourages only medical and health-care professionals to fill out the information: Should coronavirus-positive patients experience any skin-specific symptoms or have any concerns, they should report them to those medical professionals.
As with every medical concern raised during the course of the pandemic, the best thing you can do is check in with a health-care practitioner. As Dr Zeichner reiterates, "If you develop a new rash similar to what has been described, whether you have symptoms or not, you should touch base with your doctor."
The World Health Organization has declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. It says you can protect yourself by washing your hands, covering your mouth when sneezing or coughing (ideally with a tissue), avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth and don't get too close to people who are coughing, sneezing or with a fever.