Bacterial and Viral Infections in Atopic Dermatitis: a Comprehensive Review

Clin Rev Allergy Immunol. 2016 Dec;51(3):329-337. doi: 10.1007/s12016-016-8548-5.


Atopic dermatitis (AD) is the most common allergic skin disease in the general population. It is a chronic inflammatory skin disease complicated by recurrent bacterial and viral infections that, when left untreated, can lead to significant complications. The current article will review immunologic and molecular mechanisms underlying the propensity of AD patients to microbial infections. These infections include Staphylococcus aureus (S. aureus) skin infections, eczema herpeticum, eczema vaccinatum, and eczema coxsackium. Previous studies have shown that skin barrier defects, a decrease in antimicrobial peptides, increased skin pH, or Th2 cytokines such as IL-4 and IL-13 are potential contributing factors for the increased risk of skin infections in AD. In addition, bacterial virulence such as methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) produces significantly higher number of superantigens that increase their potential in causing infection and more severe cutaneous inflammation in AD patients. More recent studies suggest that skin microbiome including Staphylococcus epidermidis or other coagulase-negative staphylococci may play an important role in controlling S. aureus skin infections in AD. Other studies also suggest that genetic variants in the innate immune response may predispose AD patients to increased risk of viral skin infections. These genetic variants include thymic stromal lymphopoietin (TSLP), type I interferon (α, ß, ω), type II interferon (γ), and molecular pathways that lead to the production of interferons (interferon regulatory factor 2). A common staphylococcal toxin, α-toxin, may also play a role in enhancing herpes simplex virus skin infections in AD. Further understanding of these disease processes may have important clinical implications for the prevention and treatment of skin infections in this common skin disease.

Keywords: Atopic dermatitis; Eczema; Herpes simplex virus; Infection; Staphylococcus aureus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Bacterial Infections / complications*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / diagnosis
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / etiology*
  • Dermatitis, Atopic / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Skin / metabolism
  • Skin / microbiology
  • Skin / pathology
  • Skin / virology
  • Virus Diseases / complications*
  • Virus Diseases / virology