Contagious: Autoimmune diseases


About contagion: Contagion and contagiousness refers to how easily the spread of Autoimmune diseases is possible from one person to another. Other words for contagion include "infection", "infectiousness", "transmission" or "transmissability". Contagiousness has nothing to do with genetics or inheriting diseases from parents. For an overview of contagion, see Introduction to Contagion.

Contagiousness of Autoimmune diseases: Autoimmune diseases are not normally contagious. You cannot catch an autoimmune disease from another person like you can a virus or bacteria. Autoimmune diseases are not contagious by sex or by blood. The only known transfer of autoimmunity occurs between mother and fetus during pregnancy, and is still rare even in affected mothers.

Even autoimmune diseases caused by white blood cells do not seem to be contagious by shared needles, blood transfusion or organ transplant. Although we are unaware of direct research on this issue, what may happen is that the number of white blood cells transferred by these methods is relatively small. The normal white blood cells and other normal immune controls presumably neutralize any disease-causing properties of the autoimmune person's white blood cells.

Researchers have been able to transfer some autoimmune diseases in mice by transferring certain white blood cells. However, this only occurs when the mice are already immune-deficient specially bred mice, who are already prone to autoimmune disease. Thus, autoimmune diseases may be theoretically transmissible by blood transfusions to an already immunocompromised person, but we are unware of any actual case of this occurring.

Mother-to-fetus transmission of autoimmune disease can occur. For example, mothers with lupus can give birth to babies with neonatal lupus; similarly myasthenia gravis can cause neonatal myasthenia gravis.

Organ transplants are also unlikely to transfer autoimmune disease, if at all. Presumably, the amount of white blood cells is still relatively small, and the person's normal immune system handles it (even though transplant patients are immunocompromised). The main disease from organ transplants is graft-versus-host disease, which is a special type of disease only occurring in transplant patients. This is not the same issue as a person getting an autoimmune disease after an organ transplant.

Contagiousness properties of Autoimmune diseases:
  Contagious overall?: Yes but extremely unlikely, only in rare mother-to-fetus contagion.
  Contagious by droplet?: No
  Contagious airborne?: No
  Contagious by sex?: No
  Contagious by physical contact (non-sexual)?: No
  Contagious from saliva?: No
  Contagious from blood?: No.
  Contagious from blood transfusion?: No, only theoretically possible (no cases known in our research).
  Contagious from intravenous needle usage?: No.
  Contagious from needlestick injury?: No.
  Contagious from organ transplant?: Extremely unlikely, only theoretically possible (no cases known in our research).
  Contagious from mother to fetus (transplacental)?: Yes, in rare cases, see neonatal lupus and neonatal myasthenia gravis.
  Contagious breastfeeding mother to infant?: No
  Contagious from insect bite (or exposure)?: No

Contagion summary: No autoimmune disease has ever been shown to be contagious or "catching." Autoimmune diseases do not spread to other people like infections. They are not related to AIDS, nor are they a type of cancer. 1

1. excerpt from Understanding Autoimmune Disease: NIAID

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