Are Yeast Infections Contagious?

Candida albicans yeast on an agar plate

Sami Sarkis / Stockbyte / Getty Images

Although you might be embarrassed by having a yeast infection, they are very common infections of the skin and mucous membranes, including the mouth and vagina. A person with a vagina has a 75% chance of getting a vaginal yeast infection at least once in their lifetime. This generates 1.4 million outpatient visits for treatment each year in the United States.

Despite the prevalence of yeast infections, many people may not know what a yeast infection is, how it spreads, or how to avoid the condition.

First, what is a yeast infection? Sometimes, Candida, a type of yeast common on and in the human body, grows at unhealthy levels. This overgrowth can result in irritation to the skin and mucous membranes. Fortunately, this infection is often easy to treat, and you can avoid passing it on to others. 

Types of Yeast Infection

There are numerous types of bacteria and fungi on your body. These organisms are an important part of your body’s health, but sometimes they can become unbalanced in numbers. When there are too many or too few of these organisms on your skin, you may develop rashes, itchy sensations, or discomfort. These symptoms indicate a skin infection.

The yeast that typically causes yeast infections is not the same type of yeast used in baking or brewing. Instead, Candida albicans, the yeast on your skin, is a different fungal species.

Candida can affect different parts of your body, including the mouth, vagina, head of the penis, and babies’ backs or buttocks. Although the same strain of yeast causes these different skin irritations, healthcare providers tend to call these infections by different names.

A yeast infection of the throat, for example, is oral thrush. When Candida infects a penis, that condition is called balanitis. One of the most common types, a vaginal infection, goes by names that include yeast vaginitis, vulvovaginal candidiasis, and candidal vaginitis. Diaper rash in babies may also be due to Candida.

Depending on where on your body you have developed a yeast infection, your healthcare provider may prescribe different treatments to relieve your skin.

Are Yeast Infections Contagious?

Although it can affect the genitals, a yeast infection is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI). Because Candida exists naturally on your skin, it’s normal for some of these organisms to rub onto another person when you touch. Most of the time this Candida transfer is harmless, so yeast infections are not highly contagious.

You don’t really “catch” the infection from someone. Even if you transfer Candida onto another person, they likely won’t develop a yeast infection unless they are already prone to the condition.

In certain situations, however, you can contract or spread yeast infections through kissing, sex, or breastfeeding. Some factors that may make someone prone to developing the infection include an autoimmune disorder, poor hygiene, diabetes, or not having a healthy amount of bacteria to balance the Candida fungus.

Kissing

Candida already exists in your mouth, but the fungus can overgrow and cause irritation in your throat and on your tongue. If you have an oral yeast infection and then you transfer extra Candida fungus to someone else by kissing them, it’s possible to transmit oral thrush.

The extra yeast in your partner’s mouth from kissing may make them more likely to develop oral thrush, especially if they have a dry mouth, diabetes, an autoimmune condition, or poor oral hygiene. Yeast flourishes in warm, dry environments, especially when it has sugar from a person’s diet to feed on.

Some ways to avoid spreading thrush during kissing include drinking plenty of water, brushing your teeth and tongue, and rinsing your mouth with saltwater. 

Sex

Yeast will likely be passed through penetrative sex, but that may or may not cause an overgrowth or infection in the other person. If you have a vaginal yeast infection, a partner who has a penis is less likely to contract a yeast infection during sex, but they can still get the condition.

Fifteen percent of people with a penis who don’t use a condom report developing skin irritation on their penis after having penetrative sex with someone diagnosed with a vaginal yeast infection. If you have a penis, you are more likely to develop a yeast infection after sex if you are uncircumcised.

Partners with vaginas are more likely to get vaginitis if they have unprotected sex. As a warm and moist environment, the vagina can be an ideal place for yeast to grow. A partner who develops symptoms of a vaginal yeast infection should contact their healthcare provider.

To avoid spreading a yeast infection, partners should keep their genitals clean and dry, and they may consider wearing condoms.

Anal Sex

Jock itch and other kinds of anal yeast or fungal infections are some of the most common sources of mild to moderate anal itching.

Rarely, having anal sex may result in a yeast infection. If someone with balanitis penetrates without using a condom, some of that fungus on their penis will probably transfer into their partner’s anus. Likewise, someone with an anal yeast infection may spread extra yeast onto their partner’s penis, who might then develop balanitis as a result. 

Some ways to avoid spreading yeast infections during anal sex include washing your genitals and wearing condoms.

Oral Sex

You may get oral thrush after performing oral sex on someone with a vaginal, anal, or penile yeast infection, especially if you have a dry mouth or other conditions that might make you predisposed to developing oral thrush.

You can avoid spreading or developing oral thrush during rimming, cunnilingus, or fellatio by wearing a condom or dental dam, staying hydrated, maintaining good oral hygiene, and washing your genitals.

Sex Toys

Sex toys that are not cleaned properly can also pass Candida. After you use a sex toy in or on your body, that object will probably have traces of Candida. You can kill some of this fungus when you wash your sex toys with soap and warm water. But if you do not regularly wash your toys after each use, you can rub some of that fungus back onto your or your partner’s body.

Bathwater

An old myth advises people to not share bathwater lest they contract a yeast infection. In reality, you cannot "catch" a yeast infection from someone else if you use their bathwater.

However, soaking in baths can make yeast infections worse. Bathing with harsh soaps or bubble baths can disrupt your genital pH levels, which can make you more predisposed to developing a yeast infection.

Instead, people with a yeast infection may choose to take showers, use water and unscented soaps to clean themselves, thoroughly dry their bodies after showering, and regularly launder their towels and washcloths. 

Breastfeeding

Yeast infections can be passed through breastfeeding. Most mothers develop breast or nipple thrush after nursing a child who has oral thrush. When these children latch onto their mother’s breasts, they will transfer some Candida from their saliva.

Mothers who have sore or injured nipples from teething children, who are taking antibiotics, or who use breast pads are prone to developing yeast infections.

Some strategies to avoid nipple thrush include alternating between breast and bottle feeding, avoiding breastfeeding until your child heals from oral thrush, and taking probiotics. 

How to Tell If You Have a Yeast Infection

Yeast infections typically cause skin rashes and itchiness. Oral thrush symptoms include a white film on your tongue, pain while swallowing, and sores in your mouth. People with a vaginal yeast infection may notice itching in or around their vagina, swelling, and burning when they urinate or have sex.

People with a penile yeast infection can experience white residue near the head of their penis, especially if they are uncircumcised, and an itchy rash. Anal yeast infections often cause itching, redness, or slight swelling near the anus and perineum.

For most healthy people, yeast infections are often easy to treat and relatively benign; however, these symptoms can resemble other, more serious illnesses. For example, your mouth pain may be strep throat or another infection if you have blisters in your throat, swollen tonsils, or a fever.

Likewise, genital itching and pain may also indicate a urinary tract infection or an STI. Anal irritation, especially during sex or while defecating, could indicate hemorrhoids or fissures, among other causes. 

Consult your healthcare provider right away if your skin irritation doesn’t resolve in several days, if you develop a fever, if your pain worsens, or if your affected skin starts bleeding. A medical professional can determine the cause of your skin irritation.

Many mild to moderate yeast infections can be treated at home with over-the-counter creams. More severe cases may require prescription medication.

How to Prevent Spreading a Yeast Infection

People who have yeast infections can take several steps to avoid spreading a potential infection to their partner. These strategies include:

  • Wearing condoms or dental dams during oral, anal, and vaginal sex 
  • Avoiding sex until your yeast infection heals
  • Showering before and after sex
  • Not sharing unlaundered underwear or unwashed sex toys

In general, the best way to avoid a yeast infection is to maintain a healthy lifestyle for your skin with these suggestions:

  • Avoid eating too many sugary foods, as sugar feeds yeast
  • Shower and brush your teeth regularly
  • Wear clean, loose, cotton underwear
  • Drink plenty of water to avoid a dry mouth 
  • Use unscented soaps and water to wash your genitals 
  • Avoid sitting for too long in a swimsuit, jockstrap, or tight bicycle shorts. These clothing items trap heat, sweat, and moisture, all of which can encourage Candida to grow on your skin.
  • If prescribed an antibiotic, eat foods rich in probiotics to balance the bacteria in your body

A Word From Verywell

Yeast infections can be uncomfortable and frustrating, especially if you cope with chronic skin irritation. For some people, especially those with open wounds or autoimmune disorders, Candida infections can even be deadly.

If your symptoms have not improved after several days of using over-the-counter creams and at-home treatments, consult your healthcare provider.

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