Is That Really Contagious?

Is that bad cough you have contagious? Can you get fungus just by visiting the nail salon? The Doctors count down the top 10 contagious questions!


Before the countdown begins, however, this honorable mention could be an answer to obesity!


Is Fat Contagious?

A study in the New England Journal of Medicine of more than 12,000 people found that obesity is socially contagious and can spread from person to person, much like a virus. The study shows that you have a 57 percent chance of becoming obese if you have a friend who is obese, and the risk rises to a 171 percent chance if two mutual friends become obese.


“Eating is social,” Dr. Ordon says. “And typically, if you’re around people, you’re going to eat what other people are eating.”


There is good news, however: While gaining weight may be contagious, losing weight may be, as well! Being in a healthy environment and around healthy people has a positive influence on diet, Dr. Ordon explains. “Maybe this is an encouraging study,” Dr. Travis says. “What it’s saying to everyone is, ‘Look, if you’re encouraged to lose weight, get your friends to join you in that endeavor and you’re going to have more success.’

Nail salon necessities

To keep your nails healthy when going for a pedicure, make sure your nail salon checks out using these simple guidelines:

1. Be sure the salon keeps individually wrapped files and buffers.

2. Be sure the salon uses clear disinfectant solution.

3. Make sure your salon uses autoclaving, which heats the tools and makes them sterile.

4. Look for porcelain or portable basins, which are easier to clean.


“Yes, fat can be contagious, but good health can be contagious, as well!” Dr. Travis adds.



No. 10: Toenail Fungus

Infected toenails can range in appearance from slight discoloration to quite unsightly, and the problem can be a serious and costly. Toenail fungus, or onychomycosis, can cause the nails to become thickened, brittle, crumbly, ragged, dull and distorted in shape, and is quite contagious. One of the most common places to contract toenail fungus is at the nail salon.


“When you go to [get] your nails done, don’t be afraid to ask, ‘How do you treat your instruments, do you use a sterilizer, an autoclave?’” Dr. Ordon says. “And just look. Make sure their things are individually wrapped. If you do that, you probably will prevent a case of nail fungus.”


If you have nail fungus and do your nails at home, make sure not to use the same tools on your healthy toenails as you do on the infected ones. If you are infected, see your doctor because there are topical and oral medications to treat toenail fungus.



No. 9: Poison Ivy

While the saying goes ‘Leaves of three, let it be,’ sometimes poison ivy is difficult to avoid. Coming in contact with poison ivy or poison oak can cause major skin irritation and rashes. But can those rashes spread from person to person?


Poison Ivy symptoms

Here are some of the symptoms of a rash caused by poison ivy or poison oak:

• Itchy skin where the plant touched.

Red streaks or general redness where the plant brushed against you.
Small bumps or larger raised areas.
Blisters filled with fluid that may leak out.
Swelling of the face, mouth, neck, genitals or eyelids.

Poison ivy is primarily found on the East Coast, while poison oak is found on the West Coast. If you do come in contact with one of them, Dr. Jim advises getting into a hot, soapy shower as soon as possible, which can wash the oils from the plant off and help you avoid a rash. While the oil from the plant is contagious and can be spread, the rash that develops is not.


If you do not rid yourself of the oils in time, you can treat the rashes by using wet compresses and taking cool baths. Nonprescription antihistamines and calamine lotion may also help relieve symptoms. More serious cases may require treatment by a doctor, who can prescribe pills, creams, ointments or shots.



No. 8: Ringworm

Despite its name, ringworm is not a worm at all, but a parasitic fungus that thrives in warm, moist environments and is quite contagious. The name comes from the circular pattern it causes on the skin.


“If you get it, it’s going to be contagious, especially amongst younger kids,” Dr. Jim says. “And you can also get it from dogs.


“Once it’s diagnosed and you’re using the cream for a couple of days, it’s no longer contagious,” he adds. “So you can go back to school.”


To prevent ringworm, make sure to keep your skin dry, especially after showers and water sports, and do not share clothing, sports gear, towels or sheets. If you think you have been exposed to it, wash your clothes in hot water with special anti-fungus soap. Wearing slippers or sandals in locker rooms and public showers can also help keep you ringworm free.



No. 7: Spreading Herpes During Childbirth

Tristen, 36, from Golden, Colorado wants to get pregnant but is worried her genital herpes will spread to her baby if she has a natural childbirth.


If you have an active herpes lesion in the vaginal area while giving birth, the baby can be exposed to it. The threat of herpes extends beyond the baby’s skin and ranges from serious neurological damage, to mental retardation or even death. If you have active lesions while pregnant, a Cesarean section is recommended and Dr. Lisa advises having a vaginal exam before going into labor. “But the caveat to that is you could have an ulceration vaginally, and it can not be seen but still be exposed to the baby,” she adds.


“If you have it, you have to tell your doctor,” Dr. Jim says. “Don’t keep it a secret, don’t be embarrassed about it. You have to tell, because then they’ll know how to help you and your baby be healthy.”



No. 6: Shingles

Chickenpox and shingles are caused by the same virus, varicella-zoster, and if you had chickenpox as a child, you are at risk of contracting shingles as an adult. Shingles is a reactivation of the virus that originally caused the chickenpox. While the same virus causes both conditions, there are differences. Chickenpox affects the entire body, while shingles only causes a rash to certain affected areas and can appear in a band or a strip on the body.  Shingles are contagious if you had chickenpox as a child. If you never had chickenpox and come in contact with the shingles virus, you can contract chickenpox.



No. 5: Acne/Folliculitis

Folliculitis is an inflammation or infection of one or more hair follicles, can affect both men and women of any age and looks very similar to acne. The bacteria that cause folliculitis are contagious. “You see that most in men when they shave their neck, oftentimes you see they have little pustules there, and that’s just the irritation,” Dr. Jim says. “If they sit and squeeze and poke at those things, then you can get a much bigger infection.”


Folliculitis can be spread to other parts of the body and to other people, as well. Sharing towels or shaving tools can spread folliculitis. It can be prevented by cleansing the skin with antibacterial soap. Topical and oral antibiotics can also treat it. You should notify a doctor if the pustules spread after treatment, your fever climbs above 100 degrees, you develop boils or swollen ankles or if redness, swelling or pain occurs.


No. 4: Pink Eye

Pink eye can cause a scare in schools and work places because of its potential to spread. Pink eye has a number of causes, including bacteria, viruses, allergies, foreign bodies, plugged tear ducts and a scratch on the eye. While all may cause the eye to look similar, only the bacterial and viral conjunctivitis are contagious, and are spread by contact with the eye drainage or tears. You are most likely to contract the disease by coming in contact with an infected person and touching your eye.


After 36 to 48 hours of antibiotic drop treatment, bacterial conjunctivitis ceases to be contagious. The viral form, however, has no treatment and is contagious as long as the eyes are red. If you or your child contracts pink eye, Dr. Jim says to get in touch with your doctor. “Call. That’s one of the ones you call and hopefully the staff can ask you a couple questions and try to figure out if it’s allergy or bacterial or not,” he says. “Chances are, if you go into the doctor, you’re getting the drops whether you need them or not, because that’s all we can do.”


“Don’t rub your eyes,” Dr. Ordon says. “Wash your hands and [make] no direct contact.”



No. 3: Tuberculosis

Tuberculosis is an infection caused by slow-growing bacteria and most often is found in the lungs. It can be identified by coughs that bring up thick, cloudy or bloody mucus for an extended period of time, and is extremely contagious. A PPD skin test can tell you if you have been exposed to TB, which can be latent in the body and can cause symptoms at any time. “It is scary. Every time someone comes into the E.R. with tuberculosis, I get the mask on because there’s no way to protect yourself, except to avoid breathing in the droplets,” Dr. Travis says.



No. 2: Sinus Infection

Sinusitis occurs when your sinuses become inflamed and clogged and usually results after a cold. “Once it’s in there, and it’s all clogged up, it’s hard to get out!” says Dr. Travis, who admits he is suffering from his own case of sinusitis. “That’s why these things are difficult to treat.”


“It is contagious. Whether it’s viral or bacterial, sinusitis is contagious, “Dr. Ordon says. “Be very careful with your hands. Wash your hands.”


There are ways to treat sinusitis. Decongestants can help clear up the sinuses, and “one of the best things that I do when I get a sinus infection is find a steam room,” Dr. Jim says.



No. 1: Bronchitis

Like sinusitis, bronchitis often follows a cold. Inflammation occurs in the inner walls that line the main air passageways of your lungs. Coughing up yellow or green mucus is the most common symptom, and acute bronchitis is contagious. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the coughs last for more than three months, and is often found in smokers. “People [who] have had other irritants have a unique, dry cough,” Dr. Ordon says. “Clearly, they’re not contagious, because it’s a totally different, non-infectious disease.”


“Once you’ve had bronchitis, that cough can linger for weeks,” Dr. Travis says, “because you have irritation of your airways. At that point it’s not so much contagious.”

Inhalers and steam can help treat bronchitis.

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OAD 1/27/09