Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome: diagnosis and management

Am J Clin Dermatol. 2003;4(3):165-75. doi: 10.2165/00128071-200304030-00003.


Staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) is a common disorder that is usually seen in infants and children and rarely seen in adults. SSSS usually presents with a prodrome of sore throat or conjunctivitis. Extremely tender flaccid bullae, which are Nikolsky sign-positive, develop within 48 hours and commonly affect the flexures; occasionally, large areas of the skin may be involved. The bullae enlarge and rupture easily to reveal a moist erythematous base, which gives rise to the scalded appearance. SSSS in adults is a rare disorder, though there are now over 50 documented cases. Usually SSSS occurs in predisposed individuals, but not all adults have an underlying illness. Whereas mortality in childhood SSSS is approximately 4%, the mortality rate in adults is reported to be greater than 60%. SSSS is caused by an infection with a particular strain of Staphylococcus aureus, which leads to blistering of the upper layer of the skin, by the release of a circulating exotoxin. It has recently been demonstrated that the exfoliative exotoxin responsible for SSSS leads to the cleavage of desmoglein 1 complex, an important desmosomal protein. The same toxins that are responsible for causing SSSS also cause bullous impetigo. There appears to be a relationship between the disease extent, the amount of toxin produced and whether the toxin is released locally or systemically. As a result there is likely to be a spectrum of disease and there are likely to be a number of milder cases of adult SSSS that go undiagnosed. Social improvements and hygiene have led to a dramatic fall in the number of cases of SSSS. Treatment is usually straightforward, when there is no coexistent morbidity and the presentation is mild, but can be demanding if the patient is particularly ill. SSSS is still associated with mortality, particularly when it occurs in adults.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy, Needle
  • Child, Preschool
  • Drug Resistance, Microbial
  • Drug Therapy, Combination / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Floxacillin / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Infusions, Intravenous
  • Male
  • Penicillins / administration & dosage
  • Prognosis
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Sex Distribution
  • Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome / pathology*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects*
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Penicillins
  • Floxacillin