Background: Eczema herpeticum (EH) is a widespread herpes simplex virus infection of inflamed skin, most often occurring in patients with atopic dermatitis (AD). A monomorphic eruption of dome-shaped blisters and pustules in the eczematous lesions along with severe systemic illness lead to the clinical diagnosis, but atypical variants with disseminated slits may also occur. Topical use of corticosteroids is alleged to be a pathogenetic factor for EH, but predisposing factors for EH are largely unknown. Objective and methods We sought to characterize the clinical features and predisposing factors for EH. A retrospective analysis of 100 patients with EH seen from 1980 through 1996 and of 105 control patients with AD was performed.
Results: Fever and lymphopenia were associated with EH, whereas an increased erythrocyte sedimentation rate was frequently seen in patients with EH and control patients who were impetiginized. In 100 patients with EH, primary herpes simplex virus infection was likely in 20 patients, and a secondary herpes simplex virus infection was suggestive in 26 patients. In all, 13 patients had a second EH, whereas 3 patients had a third EH. Patients with EH had a significantly earlier onset of AD and a significantly higher total serum IgE level than the control patients. More than 75% of the patients with EH had not received corticosteroid treatment in the 4 weeks before onset of EH.
Conclusions: The characteristics of patients with EH are those associated with severe manifestations of AD. The majority of EH occurs in patients with untreated AD, arguing against a role for topical corticosteroids in the development of EH.