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Study Shows Factors Making Eczema Sufferers More Susceptible to Infections

Posted: July 9, 2009

A new study looks into the sometimes unexpected dangers of eczema, important information skin care professionals should be aware of.

Eczema patients at risk for serious viral infections have more severe disease, are more likely to be allergic to food and other allergens, and have a frequent history of staph infections, according to researchers at National Jewish Health and other institutions in the NIH-funded Atopic Dermatitis Vaccinia Network.

The findings, published June 22 in the online version of The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, could help identify people at risk for serious complications of smallpox vaccinations, and point to defects in the skin barrier and antimicrobial-protein production as possible causes for the increased susceptibility.

"Previous studies have suggested that eczema is not only becoming more prevalent, but that patients have increased susceptibility to disseminated viral infections," said senior author Donald Leung, MD, PhD, Edelstein Family Chair of Pediatric Allergy and Clinical Immunology at National Jewish Health. "Our study is the largest and first in the United States to carefully characterize eczema patients who have suffered widespread herpes simplex viral infections of their skin. It is also the first to report that these patients are more susceptible to staphylococcus and other infections of the skin and eye."

A subset of the estimated 6 million eczema patients in the United States are susceptible to widespread infections of their skin by herpes simplex and vaccinia viruses. The herpes simplex virus is common but only rarely causes disseminated skin infections that can spread to the eye and bloodstream, sometimes leading to encephalitis and meningitis. The widespread herpes simplex skin infection is known as eczema herpeticum.