Background Erythroderma has protean underlying causes. There have been isolated case reports suggesting an association between erythroderma and the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Objective: To describe and characterize further the prevalence, etiology, and metabolic sequelae of erythroderma in HIV positive and negative patients. In a subset of patients, clinicopathologic correlation was performed.
Method: One hundred and thirty-eight consecutive patients were prospectively recruited over a one and a half year period at the skin clinic of King Edward VIII Hospital. Demographic, clinical, biochemical, and histologic data were recorded.
Results: Seventy-five per cent of the patients were black, 22.5% Indian, and 2.5% white. The men to women ratio was 1.9 : 1. The mean age was 34. 7 years (range, 1 month to 85 years). Forty-three per cent of patients were HIV positive, of whom 90% were black. The commonest causes of erythroderma in the total sample were atopic dermatitis (23.9%), psoriasis (23.9%), and drug reactions (22.5%). The commonest cause in the HIV positive group was drug reactions (40.6%), the commonest being ethambutol (30.8%). HIV positive patients had a significantly lower (P < 0.05) white cell count (7.6 vs. 10.5 x 109 /L), hemoglobin (11.1 vs. 12.6 g/dL), platelets (278.3 vs. 378.0 x 109 /L), and albumin (25.4 vs. 28.7 g/L) and significantly higher serum urates (0.6 vs. 0.4 mM/L) than HIV negative patients. HIV positive patients did not have a significant increase in the number of episodes of erythroderma. Clinicopathologic correlation was greatest with psoriasis in the HIV negative group and with psoriasis and drug reactions in the HIV positive group.
Conclusions: A large proportion of erythrodermic patients in this study were HIV positive. Inflammatory dermatoses were the commonest cause of erythroderma in all the patients studied. Drug reactions were the commonest cause in HIV positive patients. In the young black patient, erythroderma may be a marker for HIV infection.