Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) can cause many different symptoms, and some of them affect your skin. If you’ve recently noticed a skin rash, you may have worried about the possibility of an STD. So if you’ve been wondering whether an STD can cause hives or a rash, just keep reading to find out.
Common STD rashes
There are many different conditions that can cause a rash on the abdomen, stomach, and many other parts of the body. Some of these causes are related to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), but not all. Let’s go over some of the causes of different STD rashes.
Syphilis is caused by a bacteria called Treponema pallidum. The symptoms of syphilis progress through different stages. According to the CDC, these stages are:
- Primary syphilis: this is the first stage immediately after infection. After the incubation period ends, one or more painless sores or chancres will appear in the area where the bacteria entered the body, such as the penis or vagina. The most common locations for this sore are the genitals, rectum, and mouth. The sore will heal on its own, and some people never notice it.
- Secondary syphilis: as the sore disappears, you may exhibit a painless rash all over your body. This sign can start as a trunk or chest rash and spread to affect your fingers, hands, and feet. A syphilis rash can look red or brown, similar to a petechial rash. The STD can also cause general symptoms like fever, muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue. The rash will heal on its own without leaving scars.
- Latent syphilis: as its name suggests, this stage doesn’t cause any symptoms. Latent syphilis can last several months or years.
- Tertiary syphilis: over time, untreated syphilis can cause severe damage to different parts of the body, and it can ultimately result in death. Signs of tertiary syphilis include paralysis, confusion, dementia, limb numbness, vision problems, strokes, and meningitis, among others.
It’s important to highlight the fact that syphilis can relapse into the secondary stage multiple times if it’s left untreated. That means that you could experience symptoms of secondary syphilis some time after they disappear for the first time.
According to Science Direct, approximately 25% of patients with untreated syphilis will experience a relapse of the secondary stage, most of them within the first year of the infection. So if you’ve experienced random rashes on your body and lead an active sex life, it’s a good idea to get tested for syphilis.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) is typically transmitted through oral-to-oral contact, while herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) is more commonly caused by genital contact. However, both types of herpes can be transmitted through other activities, such as giving or receiving oral sex.
Genital herpes can look a lot like an inner thigh rash, and according to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms can include:
- Pain or itching that precedes the formation of blisters
- Small, red bumps or blisters filled with fluid
- Ulcers that form when the blisters rupture
- Scabs that form as the ulcers heal
Human papillomavirus, or HPV, is a type of virus that can cause warts which could be confused with a rash. Some strains of HPV can also lead to certain types of cancer, but they aren’t the same strains that cause warts.
HPV warts can look like flesh-colored, red, or brown itchy bumps on your buttocks, genitals, and/or anus. Although HPV warts can itch, they’re rarely painful, and they can grow significantly over time.
There are many different strains of HPV, and different strains can be responsible for warts or bumps all over your body. However, common warts and genital warts aren’t typically caused by the same strains. According to The New Zealand HPV Project, having contact with common warts — such as warts found on the hands — doesn’t lead to genital HPV transmission.
According to NAM Aidsmap, a rash can be a sign of recent HIV infection. People can experience flu-like symptoms a few weeks after getting infected with HIV, which can include a flat, red, non-itchy rash that heals on its own within 2 to 3 weeks.
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Other causes of rash on genitals
Getting a rash from sexually transmitted diseases isn’t the only possible cause of genital irritation and body itch. According to the Cleveland Clinic, some of the most common non-STD causes of rash on the groin include:
- Eczema or atopic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Lichen sclerosus
- Irritation caused by sweating and/or tight clothing
- Scented intimate hygiene products
- Ingrown hairs or razor bumps
When to see a doctor
You should always seek medical assistance if you notice a skin rash in addition to other signs of a possible STD, such as a genital sore or unusual genital discharge. Getting tested leads to an early diagnosis and adequate treatment.
Rashes caused by skin conditions such as eczema will usually affect other parts of your body as well. For example, you could experience a back rash or arm rash at the same time as genital irritation. In these cases, you could try to pinpoint what triggers the rash. Other signs, such as pimples on your legs or pimples on the inner thigh, are more typically caused by common problems such as razor burn.
If your rash persists or is accompanied by other symptoms, you should seek medical assistance to determine the cause of the problem.
If you’re itchy everywhere, an STD isn’t necessarily the most likely explanation — however, it’s always wise to get tested for STDs regularly, especially considering that many STDs don’t cause any symptoms at all. You can learn more about at-home STD testing at STDWatch.com.
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Syphilis: The Facts - cdc.gov
Latent Syphilis - sciencedirect.com
Genital herpes - mayoclinic.org
GENITAL WARTS - hpv.org.nz
Skin problems - aidsmap.com
Sexual Health: Genital Itching - my.clevelandclinic.org