Is Vitiligo Contagious in India? Demystifying the Fact from the Myth

Last modified on October 2020
With inputs from Dr. Pragnya Rao - General Physician

Have you ever seen someone with white, pale patches on their skin? Vitiligo is a condition that causes the skin to lose its pigment cells, leading to discolouration.

The earliest mentions of vitiligo date back to 3000 years ago across Vedic and Egyptian texts. Vitiligo was often confused with leprosy, leading to stigmatization of people with the condition over the centuries. Despite being a relatively common condition, there is still a lot of misinformation around the subject and many people often wonder, is vitiligo contagious in India?

Surprisingly, vitiligo is a lot more prevalent than many of us realize. Here’s what data by NIH tells us:

0.5-1%

Of the world’s population suffers from vitiligo.
The Mid-20s

The average age when the onset of vitiligo’s first symptoms occur.
15-25%

Of people with vitiligo also experience some other form of autoimmune disorder such as autoimmune thyroid disease, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, psoriasis, etc.

95%
Of people who have vitiligo notice the symptoms before their 40th birthday.

Still, the question remains: is vitiligo contagious in India? Let’s deep-dive to understand its symptoms, causes, and treatment options.

Consult a top dermatologist at MFine to know more about Vitiligo and its symptoms

Chapter 1: What Is Vitiligo? What are the Vitiligo Symptoms?

An Overview of Vitiligo Disease Symptoms

Vitiligo or ‘Leucoderma’ is a long-term health condition characterized by pale white/pink patches caused by the lack of melanin – a pigment in the skin. The skin may lack melanin either because the cells that produce it die or stop functioning.
This disease typically occurs on the face, neck, hands, and skin creases. This condition also differs from person to person – with people either getting a few small, white patches and tiny dots or experiencing bigger white patches that cover up large areas of the skin. Vitiligo treatment for face will differ from vitiligo

Vitiligo or ‘Leucoderma’ is a long-term health condition characterized by pale white/pink patches caused by the lack of melanin – a pigment in the skin. The skin may lack melanin either because the cells that produce it die or stop functioning.

This disease typically occurs on the face, neck, hands, and skin creases. This condition also differs from person to person – with people either getting a few small, white patches and tiny dots or experiencing bigger white patches that cover up large areas of the skin. The pale white patches are usually permanent; however, effective vitiligo vulgaris treatment can reduce the appearance.

In terms of the disease’s progression, here are the vitiligo symptoms in the order in which they usually appear:

  • It starts as a tiny spot or as a pale patch of skin, gradually turning completely white.
  • The centre of the patch is generally white with smooth/irregular edges and paler skin surrounding it.
  • In cases where there are blood vessels under the skin, the patch may be slightly pink in appearance.
  • It gradually spreads to other areas of the body if left untreated.
‘Vitiligo Early Signs’: At a Glance

While the patches by themselves are not dry or flaky, they may itch from time-to-time. It generally affects the following areas and these are considered vitiligo early signs:

  • Insides and outsides of the mouth
  • Knees and elbows
  • Armpits, fingers, and wrists
  • Groin and genitals
  • Nostrils and eyes
  • Belly button
  • Hair roots on your scalp leading to premature greying of the hair, eyelashes, eyebrows, or beard
  • Vitiligo symptoms on lips
  • Around orifices, including the anus

Vitiligo symptoms on the lips deserve a special mention. According to research, lip vitiligo constitutes about 16% of all vitiligo patients. In this case, the lips lose their colour. Vitiligo treatment for lips can stop the spread to an extent if detected early enough.

Note

In rare cases, it may spread to the entire body – a phenomenon which is known as universal vitiligo. Additionally, many people lose colour in the mucous membranes of the mouth or the retina of the eye. The fact that vitiligo can spread quickly leads many people to wonder, ‘Is vitiligo contagious in India?’ However, it is impossible for the disease to spread from person-to-person contact.

Vitiligo Symptoms in Babies & Children:

When it comes to vitiligo symptoms in babies and children, there are a few key differences to make a note of:

  • As per data, it affects female children more than males.
  • Segmental vitiligo (occurs on only one side of the body and does not cross the midline) is more common than non-segmental vitiligo (occurs on both sides of the body).
  • Other autoimmune and endocrine disorders are typically not present.
  • Childhood vitiligo can lead to psycho-social issues (such as low self-esteem) of the affected child. Hence, treatment for their mental well-being is essential.

Handy tip:
The pale areas of the skin are more susceptible to sunburn. Hence, using a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 is an absolute must.

Summary:
– With vitiligo, you cannot predict how much skin will get affected. This is a chronic, acquired disease that can occur to anyone at any age.
– Another point to remember is that the pale white patches are usually permanent; however, effective vitiligo vulgaris treatment can reduce the appearance.
– In addition to treating the vitiligo symptoms physically, catering to the mental health of the affected person and their family should be a priority. Many people believe that vitiligo is contagious in India, which can lead to stigmatization of the individual.

Chapter 2: What Causes Vitiligo to Spread?

In this section, we will look at the various vitiligo causes and prevention to answer the question, ‘Is vitiligo contagious in India?’. It’s important to note: in the case of vitiligo, there is no way to know when, where, or how you’re going to get it. Since we don’t know why it occurs, vitiligo causes and prevention measures become irrelevant.

However, extensive research into the field indicates that what causes vitiligo to spread is often a combination of genetics and environmental conditions and vitiligo autoimmune disorders, leading to its onset. Here’s a list of common ‘triggers’ that can cause vitiligo:

20% of people with vitiligo also
have one other autoimmune disorder.”.

  • Research into the question, ‘is vitiligo an autoimmune disease?’ has thrown up some interesting observations. Autoimmune diseases such as Addison’s disease (where you feel tired and lacking energy all the time), type 1 diabetes (where you’re constantly thirsty and need to urinate often), scleroderma, lupus, thyroiditis, psoriasis, alopecia areata, pernicious anaemia, and rheumatoid arthritis can occur alongside vitiligo. Thus, while it does not cause vitiligo, some vitiligo autoimmune disease symptoms can occur together.
  • Hereditary/genetic factors: Approximately, 30% of people with this condition have a family history.
  • Physical or emotional stress: According to research, “The mean duration of the disease is 10 years, family history is recorded in 26% of cases and stress was the most common precipitating factor of the disease.”
  • Excessive skin damage which may occur due to severe sunburn or cuts
  • Increased exposure to certain chemicals causing skin trauma, such as products that contain phenol like adhesives, deodorants, paints, etc.
  • Hormonal changes in the body
  • Liver and/or kidney issues
What Causes Vitiligo to Spread?

Vitiligo starts out as small white irregular patches, taking months or even, years to spread. In most cases, the white patches will continue to spread if left untreated.

Other Health Issues That Can Occur Due to Vitiligo

Like other diseases, vitiligo too can cause other health complications such as:

  • Increased vulnerability to sunburn as the affects areas may be frequently exposed
  • Eye problems like the inflammation of the iris or the middle layer of the eye
  • Partial loss of hearing
  • Psychological/social distress, such as poor confidence and low self-esteem.

Summary:
Simply put, the exact causes of vitiligo are largely unknown. That said, hereditary factors may play a vital role in causing the disease among family members from generation to generation.

Book an online doctor consultation on MFine to get find out what’s causing your Vitiligo to spread!

Chapter 3: Different Types of Vitiligo

The type of vitiligo you suffer from is dependent on how many patches you have and where they’re present on the body. Vitiligo differential diagnosis can determine the type of vitiligo you have. Generally speaking, vitiligo consists of two main types, namely:

A. Non Segmental Vitiligo: The Common, ‘Universal’ Type

This is one of the most common types of vitiligo and affects around 9 in 10 people who have the condition. A common question is, ‘Is segmental vitiligo curable?’

Non segmental vitiligo is considered to be a vitiligo autoimmune disorder where your immune system ends up destroying the melanocyte skin cells that produce melanin. This type is also known as bilateral or generalized vitiligo. Vitiligo differential diagnosis is made by identifying the vitiligo symptoms which appear as symmetrical white patches on both sides of the body – similar to a mirror-image – including areas such as:

  • Backs of your hands
  • Arms, elbows, and knees
  • The skin around the eyes
  • Feet

Note

The discolouration can eventually affect skin on the whole body or over 80% of it, – giving it the name universal vitiligo.

People At-Risk of Developing Non Segmental Vitiligo

  • Family history of vitiligo or autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, rheumatoid arthritis, type 1 diabetes, etc. (vitiligo autoimmune diseases like these can trigger the condition)
  • Skin cancer (melanoma) or non-Hodgkin lymphoma
  • Genetic predisposition to be linked to non-segmental vitiligo
B. What is Segmental Vitiligo: Is Segmental Vitiligo Curable?

“Segmental vitiligo starts earlier and usually affects 3 in 10 children.” – NHS

If you’re wondering what is segmental vitiligo, keep reading.

Also known as unilateral or localized vitiligo, segmental vitiligo is less common in general but more common in children. In terms of the disease progression, it tends to occur at a younger age, progresses for a year or two, and then stops entirely. Here, white patches affect one specific area of the body and are not present anywhere else on the body. Thus, the answer to the question, ‘Does segmental vitiligo spread?’ is: only to an extent.

This skin condition is caused by chemicals released from the nerve endings in your skin which are poisonous to the pigment cells, and ultimately end up killing the melanocyte skin cells.

Vitiligo Diagnosis

If you have vitiligo, it helps to prepare for your doctor’s visit. So, consider doing your homework before going. This includes:

  • Getting your family medical records together
  • Preparing questions for your doctor, such as:
    – What’s the most likely cause of my vitiligo symptoms?- What kind of tests will I need?- What are the vitiligo causes and treatment options available, and what are its side-effects?- What kind of cosmetic products are ideal for concealing the discoloured patches?
  • Documenting stressful events that may have occurred in your personal or professional life
  • Assembling a list of chemicals you may have come into contact with over the years
  • Bringing a trusted friend or a family member for support

Once you’ve completed these tasks, you’re ready to visit your doctor.

To start with, a General Physician/Dermatologist will need to examine the affected areas of skin to diagnose vitiligo. Additionally, they may order a skin biopsy test as well as blood tests in rare cases.

The doctor may also ask you a couple of questions to get a proper health history and understand more about the cause of vitiligo. Some questions that the doctor may ask include whether:

  • There is a history of vitiligo or other vitiligo autoimmune diseases in your family.
  • You’ve injured the affected area(s) of the skin (could be either because of sunburn or a skin rash).
  • The affected areas of the skin are getting better/worse without vitiligo disease treatment.
  • You’ve tried any vitiligo disease treatments prior to visiting them.
  • Vitiligo has had a psychological impact on your life – from affecting your confidence and self-esteem to causing a hindrance in your job or in your relationships with near-and-dear ones.
  • Your thyroid gland is working properly or not.

Wood’s Lamp’ for Vitiligo Diagnosis

In some cases, doctors use an ultraviolet (UV) lamp called a “Wood’s Lamp” to get a better look at your skin. This is essential as it can help distinguish vitiligo from other skin conditions such as pityriasis versicolor where the skin loses pigment due to a fungal infection.

All you have to do is sit in a dark room and let the doctor examine the affected area using the lamp from around 10-13cms away.

Summary:
– There are two types of vitiligo that people experience – Non-Segmental Vitiligo and Segmental Vitiligo.
– Each type is characterized by key traits, symptoms, and causes that need to be factored in to get the proper course of vitiligo treatment in India. There are even some remedies for vitiligo treatment at home but they are not as effective.

To understand the various types of Vitiligo, all you need to do is consult a top dermatologist at MFine

Chapter 4: Answering the Question: "Is Vitiligo Contagious in India?"

Important:

“Vitiligo is usually a harmless cosmetic issue, but the real issue is the mental health implications it can put a person under. Lack of information and societal prejudice can lead many to believe that vitiligo is contagious. This can lead to people with the condition getting shunned or discriminated against. It’s important that we make the effort to educate others about the condition to prevent this from happening.”
– Dr. Pragnya Rao, General Physician

Is vitiligo contagious in India? Contrary to popular opinion, no. Vitiligo is not a contagious disease. It can be a stressful disease – owing to the social stigma that comes with it – but it is not life-threatening.The real danger with vitiligo is the effect it can have on a person’s self-esteem, mental health and interpersonal relationships.

50% of people with vitiligo report negative effects on their relationships.”

Additionally, vitiligo patients report feelings of withdrawal, depression, anxiety, and emotional burden.

However, the important point to note is that this disease cannot spread from one person to another. Thus if you are wondering ‘Is vitiligo contagious in India?’, the answer is a clear no. So instead of isolating the person affected, it is important to support them all the way and help alleviate their stress by offering consistent guidance and support.

You’ll be surprised to know that numerous famous personalities suffer from vitiligo and have overcome it with inspiring confidence.

Did you know?

Vitiligo can help protect against melanoma and other deadly skin cancers.

Summary:
Is vitiligo contagious? Certainly not! You cannot get it from someone or pass it on to others.
– Although not life-threatening, vitiligo can cause issues with self-esteem and mental health. As such, it’s important to treat those with the condition with extreme love, care and support.
– In spite of the stigma vitiligo brings along with it, many people have managed to find success without letting their condition become an obstacle.

Book an online doctor consultation on MFine to find out if your Vitiligo is contagious

Chapter 5: Debunking the Common Vitiligo Causes and Symptoms Myths

Vitiligo is one of the most misunderstood conditions. False information about vitiligo can be dangerous because it can lead to ostracization of the individual. Here are some of the most common myths surrounding vitiligo and the truth behind them.

Myth 1: “Vitiligo is contagious.”

Reality: Vitiligo is not an infectious disease, and neither is it contagious. In fact, you cannot ‘catch’ it or pass it to someone by touching. Long story short, there’s no need to avoid people who may have visible signs of the disorder.

Myth 2: “Vitiligo, albinism, and leprosy are the same.”

Reality: Vitiligo is a separate skin condition and is not linked to leprosy, cancer, or albinism. It does not cause any notable physical harm. The exact cause of this disorder remains unknown.

Myth 3: “Vitiligo is temporary and goes away with time.”

Reality: Vitiligo is not a temporary skin condition. Treatment options are available that can reduce the appearance, but this disease cannot go away completely.

Myth 4: “Only dark-skinned people get vitiligo.”

Reality: Vitiligo affects people of all races, but it may be more noticeable in people with dark skin.

Myth 5: “You can predict the extent to which vitiligo can spread by looking at the affected person.”

Reality: There’s no way to know how, when, or where vitiligo will occur. Only an expert can diagnose the disease by using a combination of physical examination, medical history, laboratory tests, and a biopsy (in rare cases).

Myth 6: “Vitiligo is a cosmetic disorder.”

Reality: Vitiligo is not a cosmetic disorder. It is a systemic disease that can be controlled with the right treatment.

Summary:
– Vitiligo is associated with social stigma and personal bias that can cause a negative psychological impact on the affected person.
– This is why busting vitiligo-related myths and creating awareness about this disease are the first steps towards tackling this disease the right way.

To get more clarity on Vitiligo, consult a top dermatologist on the MFine app

Chapter 6: Vitiligo Treatments : Home Remedies, Medication, & Surgical

Are you wondering about “What are your treatment options for vitiligo?” Before we jump into the various treatment options available, it is important to understand that the choice of treatment depends on diverse factors such as:

  • Your age and medical history
  • The extent of skin affected, the severity of your condition, and the location as well as size of your patches
  • The rate at which vitiligo is progressing
  • How the disease affects your life psychologically and physically

Based on these factors, three types of treatment options may be available to you: vitiligo treatment home remedies, medication and vitiligo treatment creams, and surgical options, or a combination of the three. That said, not all treatments work for everyone, and some may even cause unwanted side-effects.

Important:
It is critical that you speak to your doctor before self-prescribing or experimenting with the treatment options mentioned below.

Let’s take a deeper look at the treatment options available at your disposal:

A. Vitiligo Treatment and Vitiligo Home Remedies

These easy self-care tactics can help improve your skincare and appearance. These points also help improve the mental distress associated with the condition:

  • Applying a strong sunscreen as often as possible – especially if you are stepping out
  • Wearing clothing that prevents excessive skin exposure
  • Avoiding tanning beds and sunlamps
  • Concealing the affected skin with the right makeup and self-tanning products, if you want to.
  • Using skin camouflages (longer-lasting waterproof creams under vitiligo treatment creams) that can blend with your vitiligo patches to match your natural skin tone, if you want to conceal it. However, vitiligo is becoming increasingly normalized, so there’s no need to feel pressured into hiding your condition
  • Avoiding getting a tattoo as it damages your skin
  • Communicating your feelings to loved ones and going to support groups in your area for people with vitiligo

There are also some vitiligo home treatments that can improve the condition of your skin. While they cannot cure vitiligo, they can treat dryness and rough patches that people with vitiligo often experience.

  • Papaya is a good natural exfoliator and can smoothen your skin. Simply rub pieces of papaya on the affected area and wash it when dry.
  • Consume foods that are high in zinc or consume Zinc supplements to speed up the healing process of the skin against vitiligo.
  • You can also include vitamin C-rich foods in your diet, such as orange, lemons, grapefruits, strawberries, kiwi, bell peppers, and broccoli.
B. Ultraviolet Therapy

Narrow-Band Ultraviolet B (UVB) Therapy

Historically, it has been seen that light-based therapies such as ultraviolet therapy can slow down the progression of active vitiligo and help restore the skin colour and even out the skin tone.

Narrow-Band Ultraviolet B (UVB) therapy is considered a healthy alternative to traditional PUVA therapy as it is a more focused type of light therapy and comes with fewer side effects.

This treatment option, when used along with corticosteroids or calcineurin inhibitors, can be effective. Possible side effects include redness, itching, and burning; though these may clear up within a few hours post-treatment.

Note

These treatments can have serious side-effects so please consult your doctor to understand the next steps.

Psoralen and Ultraviolet A (PUVA) Therapy

In this type of therapy, you’re prescribed a topical psoralen as a pill or a cream. The doctor then examines your skin by exposing it to the ultraviolet A light (a technique called PUVA) to restore the skin colour. The skin turns pink after each exposure, eventually turning to a normal hue as the treatment goes on.

If vitiligo affects more than 20% of the body, this treatment may be given two to three times a week. Also note that in some cases, the psoralen can be taken orally instead of topically.

Self-care tips include reducing sun exposure and wearing protective sunglasses. Side effects include sunburn, nausea, itching, and hyper-pigmentation.

Depigmentation: Removing the Remaining Color

This therapy is permanent in nature and is applicable for people whose vitiligo may be widespread (more than 50% of the body). It can also be used for people for whom other treatments haven’t worked.

In this, a depigmenting agent is applied to unaffected areas of skin to lighten the skin colour and allow a seamless blend with the discoloured areas. Side effects include inflammation, redness, swelling, itching, dry skin, and increased sensitivity to sunlight.

C. Medications and Creams

In order to prevent vitiligo relapse, your doctor may recommend medication that can be applied to the skin as maintenance therapy. These include corticosteroid creams that might help return the skin colour – especially in the early stages of the disease or help slow down the growth.

Topical corticosteroids are helpful for cases with less than 10% of vitiligo coverage and when the face is not affected. These topical treatments may be too harsh for vitiligo treatment for face. For people with a case of severe vitiligo, corticosteroid pills and injections might be an effective option.

Like any treatment, it may take time to show the desired results. Plus, it might cause side effects such as skin thinning, shrinkage, excess hair growth, skin irritation, or streaks or lines on your skin.

Note

No medicines or treatments can stop the loss of pigment cells, however, some medicines when used in combination with light therapy can help restore the skin tone.

D. Surgery

For people who don’t experience any success with light therapy and medications, surgery is the next best option. Generally, your doctor will recommend surgery if you have had no new or worsening white patches in the last 12 months and if your vitiligo wasn’t caused by sun damage.

The following are the different types of surgical treatments that can help even out skin tone by restoring colour. However, you should consider vitiligo surgery cost before deciding to go ahead with this option.:

  • Skin grafting: Useful for people with small patches of vitiligo. Here, the doctor transfers small sections of healthy, pigmented skin to the affected areas. Possible risks include infection, scarring, spotty colour, and permanent discolouration.
  • Blister grafting: In this procedure, the doctor creates blisters on your pigmented skin and then transplants the tops of the blisters to discoloured skin. Scarring, a cobblestone appearance, and failure to recolour are some possible risks.
  • Micropigmentation: This is a safe, effective, and cosmetically acceptable option for vitiligo of lateral lower lip. It provides immediate results. In this, your doctor will tattoo pigment into your skin to match your skin’s colour.

Summary:
– Treatment for vitiligo is not about stopping its spread. That said, the treatment options available can help reduce the appearance of the white patches and even out the skin tone.
– Depending on the severity of vitiligo, you can go for surgical, home-based, or medication treatment for segmental vitiligo.

Talk to top dermatologist at MFine and learn how to self-manage and treat Vitiligo!

Chapter 7: FAQs

Q1. Is vitiligo an autoimmune disease or not?

Yes, vitiligo is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the pigment cells (melanocytes) in the skin. This disease is usually progressive. With time, the white or discoloured patches may spread to other areas of the body and become more extensive.

Q2. Can vitiligo be cured?

At present, vitiligo has no known cure. However, it is not life-threatening and can be managed with the right vitiligo treatment in India and a helpful support system.

Q3. Is surgery for vitiligo helpful?

No, vitiligo surgery is not always necessary to correct the condition. Some babies could have conditions that pose a risk to their health and, therefore, require vitiligo surgery. This is only if the vitiligo symptoms in babies are aggressive. In other cases, surgery may be done solely for cosmetic reasons and is not always viewed as essential. You should consider vitiligo surgery cost before deciding to go ahead with this option.

Q4. What is vitiligo’s treatment for children?

Vitiligo can be treated in children by following these best-practices:

  • Supporting your child’s emotional and mental needs. In some cases, you can even consult with a child psychologist to ensure that the condition does not affect your child’s self-esteem
  • Wearing sunscreen every day to protect against skin cancer, and prevent burns and scars
  • Using concealers based on your doctor’s recommendation, if required
  • Consulting a dermatologist early on to check the best possible vitiligo treatment in India options available
  • Consulting your doctor about going for the Photochemotherapy (vitiligo ultraviolet light therapy) with Ultraviolet A (also known as PUVA) treatment option. Vitiligo treatment laser options are also available.
  • Consulting your doctor about the ultraviolet light therapy for vitiligo like Phototherapy treatment with narrow-band ultraviolet B (UVB) or vitiligo treatment laser options.

Q5. What are the medicines for vitiligo treatment at home?

There are many home treatments available for vitiligo. One of the most common natural medicines for vitiligo treatment is the use of turmeric along with mustard oil to stimulate the pigmentation of the skin. However, these natural remedies have not been proven.

Q6. Is vitiligo contagious disease?

For those searching for ‘is vitiligo a contagious disease’, it is not an infectious disease and is not contagious. It cannot spread through touch.

Conclusion

Is vitiligo contagious in India? No. Vitiligo is an autoimmune disease – which means that its occurrence is not in your control. It is a normal health issue that can happen to anyone at any age without any fault of their own. This is something most people don’t understand, leading them to experience self-esteem issues and by extension, poor quality of life.

Hence, it is not only essential to tackle the physical symptoms of this condition with the right treatment but to also treat the psychological baggage that comes with it.

The final piece of advice to those who suffer from vitiligo: self-acceptance and self-love can go a long way in keeping the symptoms at bay! So, speak to your doctor and chart out the right treatment plan that’s informed, effective, and considerate.

Consult a top dermatologist at MFine to get started on the best course of treatment for Vitiligo!

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