Kaposi varicelliform eruption, also known as eczema herpeticum, is a rare but potentially life threatening infection the herpes simplex virus (HSV) triggers. It can present as painful skin blisters and sores that spread rapidly and cause severe skin damage.

Not only is the infection uncomfortable, but it can lead to more serious health complications, such as bacterial sepsis and altered function in multiple organs.

Although Kaposi varicelliform eruption can affect people of all ages and genders, it is more common in infants and young children with underdeveloped immune systems. It also tends to occur in people with preexisting skin conditions, such as eczema and atopic dermatitis.

This article discusses the causes, symptoms, and treatments for Kaposi varicelliform eruption.

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Generally, the symptoms may cause discomfort and distress.

Kaposi varicelliform eruption begins with clusters of fluid- or pus-filled blisters that appear on the face, neck, trunk, and limbs. They can be painful, itchy, and can come with fever.

The blisters tend to look similar in size and shape, and they may be accompanied by other skin symptoms, such as:

  • erythema (redness) of the skin surrounding the blisters
  • blood staining — causing red, purple, or black blisters
  • swelling (edema) of the affected area
  • crusting, scabbing, or oozing of the blisters
  • pain or tenderness of the affected skin
  • itching or burning sensations

Also, the blisters may spread to other areas of the body and merge into larger patches of blisters. These larger patches are then prone to secondary bacterial infection, which can cause severe skin damage and scarring.

Learn more about eczema herpeticum and what lesions might look like here.

Most commonly, herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1) causes Kaposi varicelliform eruption. However, other viruses may be involved, including:

  • herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2)
  • coxsackie A16
  • vaccinia
  • varicella-zoster
  • smallpox

Kaposi varicelliform eruption occurs mainly in individuals with preexisting skin conditions, such as atopic dermatitis (eczema). With these skin conditions, a damaged skin barrier allows the virus to enter the skin and potentially cause an infection, particularly in people with low immunity.

Learn more about herpes simplex here.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common skin condition associated with Kaposi varicelliform eruption. However, doctors also associate it with numerous other conditions, including:

Diagnosing Kaposi varicelliform eruption involves a combination of the following:

  • physical examination
  • medical history
  • laboratory tests

A doctor begins with a physical examination of the affected skin, looking for characteristic clusters of fluid-filled blisters surrounded by areas of redness and inflammation. They also review the person’s medical history and ask about any preexisting skin conditions or recent viral infections.

Some of the tests a doctor may order include:

  • Viral culture: This test involves taking a swab from the skin lesions and testing it for the presence of HSV or other viruses. It helps confirm the diagnosis or rule out other conditions with similar symptoms.
  • Polymerase chain reaction (PCR): PCR is a laboratory test that can detect the DNA of the HSV or other viruses present in skin lesions. This test can provide a more rapid and accurate diagnosis than viral culture.
  • Blood tests: Blood tests can help identify an underlying immune system disorder — such as HIV or other immunodeficiencies — that may contribute to the development of the condition.

Treating Kaposi varicelliform eruption should begin immediately, as the condition can be life threatening for some. Treatment can involve:

  • Antiviral medications: Intravenous acyclovir is an antiviral medication that helps treat the underlying viral infection and helps prevent the condition from spreading. These types of medications also help reduce the risk of complications and disease severity.
  • Topical medications: Topical medications, such as corticosteroids or antibiotics, may help reduce inflammation and prevent secondary bacterial infections. A person applies them directly to the affected skin.
  • Supportive measures: Wound care involves keeping the affected skin clean and dry. Using cool compresses or wet dressings to help relieve itching and irritation may be beneficial. Also, pain-relieving medications can help reduce any discomfort.

Kaposi varicelliform eruption is a serious condition. A person’s outlook may depend on the following:

  • age
  • overall health
  • immune status
  • how quickly they receive treatment

Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those living with lymphoma, HIV, or AIDS, generally are at higher risk of developing severe symptoms or complications and recurrent infections. Left untreated, the condition has a higher risk of being fatal. Conversely, individuals with typical immune function may have a milder disease course, and their outlook is typically better.

In severe cases, Kaposi varicelliform eruption can lead to:

  • ocular involvement and vision loss, which have a higher chance of occurring when the condition affects the face
  • bacterial sepsis, or the presence of bacteria in the blood
  • viremia, or the presence of a virus in the blood
  • multiple organ involvement

All conditions mentioned above are serious and require prompt medical attention.

However, with timely and appropriate treatment, many people fully recover from Kaposi varicelliform eruption without complications.

It’s important that anyone with symptoms gets advice and medical attention to help prevent transmitting the virus and to help reduce the risk of complications.

Kaposi varicelliform eruption is a serious skin disorder caused by contracting the herpes simplex virus (HSV) or, potentially, another virus. It typically presents as clusters of fluid-filled blisters surrounded by redness and inflammation.

Getting treatment immediately is important, as the condition can be life threatening for some. It may involve antiviral medications, topical treatments, and supportive measures, such as wound care.

A person’s outlook depends on their overall health and immune status.

In general, those with weakened immune systems have a higher risk of severe symptoms and complications. However, with prompt treatment, many people recover without complications.

It’s important that anyone with symptoms gets medical attention immediately.