Cutaneous Cryptococcus infection and AIDS. Report of 12 cases and review of the literature

Arch Dermatol. 1996 May;132(5):545-8.


Background: Cryptococcal infections occur in 6% to 13% of patients with acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), most commonly infecting the central nervous system. Cutaneous lesions have been described morphologically as umbilicated papules, nodules, and violaceous plaques and can mimic molluscum contagiosum and Kaposi's sarcoma. Cutaneous lesions can present months prior to other signs of systemic infection.

Observations: Cases of infection with cutaneous Cryptococcus and AIDS were reviewed and compared with cases reported in the literature. Among patients with Cryptococcus infection and AIDS seen at our institutions, 5.9% had skin lesions. All patients with cutaneous lesions had systemic involvement. Women were less commonly infected than men. There was no apparent predisposition associated with age, race, or human immunodeficiency virus infection risk factors. The median CD4 helper T-cell count was 0.024 X 10(9)/L (24/microL), and 44% (16/36) of the patients had previous opportunistic infections. Lesions were most commonly seen on the head and neck (78% [36/46]) and often mimicked molluscum contagiosum (54% [25/46]). The median serum and cerebrospinal fluid cryptococcal antigen titers were 1:32,768 and 1:512, respectively. Patients in our group did well with therapy (one death at 6 weeks, compared with 38% [13/34] mortality in the literature). There was no correlation between onset of lesions, number of lesions, CD4 helper T-cell count, or histopathologic characteristics.

Conclusions: Disseminated Cryptococcus infection in AIDS presents with cutaneous lesions in up to 6% of cases. Clinicians need to be aware of the varied morphologic characteristics, since cutaneous lesions may present well in advance of other signs of systemic infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / microbiology*
  • AIDS-Related Opportunistic Infections / pathology
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cryptococcosis* / pathology
  • Dermatomycoses* / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged