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Measles outbreaks lead to more anxiety for people with visible skin conditions

The classic symptom of measles is a rash. To a worried public, any bumps and spots may seem concerning.
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/ Source: TODAY

Living with a visible skin condition can be hard enough without the public on alert for the measles.

Now add suspicion about any “rash” to the mix as the highly contagious disease makes a comeback and people dealing with psoriasis, eczema, rosacea and other non-contagious skin conditions are sometimes feeling the scrutiny.

So far this year, 314 cases of measles have been confirmed in 15 states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An outbreak north of New York City led a county to declare a state of emergency Tuesday and ban children not vaccinated against measles from public spaces, such as schools, stores, churches and public transit.

A classic symptom of measles is a red or reddish-brown rash that appears on the patient’s forehead and spreads downward to the rest of the face, then the neck, torso, arms, legs and feet.

To a worried public, any bumps and spots may seem concerning.

Alisha Bridges, 31, who has been living with psoriasis since she was a child, said her body is typically 90 percent covered with dark brown spots if she doesn’t have an effective treatment.

She’s comfortable showing her skin on her website and social media channels because it’s easy to add a caption that says “Hey, I’m living with psoriasis,” Bridges noted. But when she’s out among strangers, she’s worried they’ll jump to conclusions.

"With this anti-vaccination drama that’s going on in the world, that may instill even more fear in people and have them even more suspicious of skin conditions that they see," said Alisha Bridges, who has psoriasis.Alisha Bridges

“When [measles] was heavy in the news, I definitely had that thought and that fear that someone would mistake my condition for the measles,” Bridges, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, told TODAY.

“With skin diseases or skin conditions, people always assume the worst and they go to what it is that they know, and although we’ve advanced a lot with providing knowledge about psoriasis, a lot of people are still unaware of it, so the first thing that comes to their mind is… measles, perhaps.”

Measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000, but the disease has reappeared in recent years as travelers bring the virus back from other countries and outbreaks continue in anti-vaccination “hot spots.”

The reports have made people nervous and those with visible skin conditions have noticed.

“Recent measles outbreak —> having psoriasis splotches —> more strangers avoid you,” a woman in Virginia tweeted last month.

When a South Carolina woman and her child were recently asked to leave a flight because the crew was worried about their dry, scaly skin — which turned out to be caused by ichthyosis, a rare genetic skin condition that’s not contagious — many people sided with the airline.

“I live in Clark County, the epicenter of the NW measles outbreak. I’d be concerned also if I saw someone on the plane with a rash that mimics measles,” a woman commented in response to the story on the TODAY Facebook page.

But others were outraged.

“Do those with eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, allergies, etc. all need to carry [doctor’s] notes? That’s simply asinine,” one commenter noted.

“I have psoriasis — am I now going to have to travel with documentation?” another asked.

Brandon Hipps, 20, who has severe eczema that leaves his skin dry, flaky and discolored, said that if he were to fly, he would be worried he might be singled out because people on the lookout for the measles might be looking at his skin more closely.

Hipps feels he has to explain his condition more because people are worried about the disease, he added. He usually wears long sleeve shirts and jeans everywhere he goes, but on days he has shown more skin, “I always felt like I have a lot of eyes on me,” Hipps, who lives in Avon Park, Florida, told TODAY.

People with chronic hives are concerned, too. One Nebraska woman was relieved her condition was no longer visible with the help of medication.

“It is a freeing feeling not worrying I look like I have the measles. I am a pharmacist so it is nice not looking like I am contagious,” she tweeted this month.

Remember: measles patients have more than a rash

Measles is a respiratory illness. Symptoms typically include:

  • high fever that may spike to more than 104° Fahrenheit
  • cough
  • runny nose
  • red, watery eyes
  • tiny white spots inside the mouth
  • a rash of small flat red or red-brown spots that may join together into larger patches. The rash starts on the face and spreads downward on the body.