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What is Pustular Dermatitis?

Laura M. Sands
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Pustular dermatitis is a rare skin virus with multiple subtypes. One type, known as subcorneal pustular dermatosis or Sneddon-Wilkinson disease, is characterized by lesions and inflamed skin in the lower trunk regions of the body. Researchers are not certain as to the exact cause of Sneddon-Wilkinson disease. It can occur in both women and men of any age group, but it is most commonly found in aging women.

Another form of this virus is known as contagious pustular dermatitis and is transmitted from sheep or goats to humans. Generally, this type of infection is found in individuals who work with cattle and are prone to contact with an infected animal. Although it is most commonly derived from actual animal contact, it may also infect humans who come in contact with equipment containing the bodily fluids of an infected animal or who come in physical contact with the vaccine used to inoculate animals against this virus. It is not generally passed from human-to-human contact, however. Also known as infectious pustular dermatitis, this subtype is also found in piglets who are still nursing from their mothers.

Unlike the subcorneal subtype, symptoms of the contagious form of this disease, also known as Orf, frequently appear on the face and hands of infected individuals. In most cases of infection, pustules will eventually disappear naturally. It can take up to two months before a person fully recovers from this condition.

Pustules, or fluid-filled blisters, can be quite painful, and cases of mild fever accompanying inflammation have been reported. Health experts urge individuals working with cattle to wear gloves and protective clothing to avoid contact with the dermatitis virus. Pustules are benign but medical treatment for pain and inflammation is sometimes needed. Antibiotics are also commonly prescribed to ward against further infection.

Pustular dermatitis is frequently found in cattle in the days and weeks following vaccination for the virus. Symptoms appear in and around the mouths of infected animals, and the virus is easily transmitted to humans during this time. While the virus does not pose a serious threat to healthy people, individuals with weakened immune systems may suffer unknown complications as result of contact with the virus. Individuals experienced in handling animals with the virus may be inclined to let the condition run its own course, but health experts encourage individuals suffering from AIDS, HIV or another immunodeficiency to seek medical help immediately if infection is suspected.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Laura M. Sands
By Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing to her work. With a background in social sciences and extensive online work experience, she crafts compelling copy and content across various platforms. Her ability to understand and connect with target audiences makes her a skilled contributor to any content creation team.
Discussion Comments
By ceilingcat — On Jul 17, 2011

@sunnySkys - I can't imagine why anyone would play around with their health like that!

I know this condition isn't usually life threatening, but really. I took a look around the internet for some pictures and it sure is gross! Definitely not something I'd want to risk catching.

By sunnySkys — On Jul 16, 2011

A friend of mine works with livestock and she told me that they were warned to take precaution against this illness. Unfortunately one of her coworkers didn't follow the recommended procedure and caught pustular dermatitis.

The condition did clear up on its own, but her coworker wasn't a very happy camper while he was waiting for the condition to resolve. My friend told me that he followed all the precautions from that day forward!

Laura M. Sands
Laura M. Sands
Laura Sands, the founder of a publishing company, brings her passion for writing and her expertise in digital publishing...
Learn more
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