What is it?
Vitiligo is a common chronic and progressive dermatosis, characterized by skin patches with shortage (hypochromia) or absence (achromia) of melanotic pigmentation. The patches present a pink to milk-white shade and sharp, often hyper-pigmented, edges underlining the color contrast with the surrounding normally-pigmented skin (Pic. 1, Pic. 1bis).
These patches are usually symmetrical, may appear in any part of the body, and their onset does not depend on sex or on the color of the skin and hair of the affected person.
How many people suffer from vitiligo?
Statistically, the World Health Organization states that vitiligo is estimated to have a 1% incidence on the world population (e.g. almost 1,000,000 people suffer from this disease in Italy) with no geographical, racial or sex differences; it can be said that no human race is excluded. The most affected age range is between 20 and 40 years old, even if pediatric cases have been rising recently.
This condition is rarely present at birth, so it can be defined as acquired, even if it can appear during the first days of life. It has a family trend in about 13-15% of the cases.
Is it a contagious illness?
Vitiligo is almost always progressive and does not heal spontaneously (just in rare cases). But it is a painless, noncontagious and absolutely benign dermatosis; it does not compromise the overall health status, but it can be psychically and socially disabling, as it causes diffuse and evident imperfections.
In some cases its presence may indicate associated autoimmune diseases (e.g. thyroiditis, autoimmune chronic gastritis, diabetes).