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What is Eczema Herpeticum?

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  • Written By: Jacob Queen
  • Edited By: Lauren Fritsky
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2016
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Eczema herpeticum is a rare, but serious, skin disease that normally happens when the herpes simplex virus attacks a part of the skin where some other condition—usually eczema—already exists. This illness is considered very dangerous, and there are multiple scenarios where it can become fatal. It is not unusual for a person to successfully fight off the condition on his own, but the possible complications are so severe that it is almost always treated as a serious emergency. It can easily recur multiple times, but the first outbreak is generally the most dangerous.

The skin disorder eczema is the most common underlying cause of this illness, and it’s generally characterized by a red rash that itches. The first signs that normal eczema has turned into eczema herpeticum involve the development of blisters around the area of the rash. These will initially be filled with clear liquid, and they have small depressions on top of them. The clear liquid inside the blisters will start to change into pus and, eventually, the sores may crack open and bleed. The infected individual will usually develop a fever, and there is normally a feeling of fatigue.

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People of all ages are vulnerable to eczema herpeticum, and it attacks women and men about equally. In most cases, the illness lasts about two weeks, but six weeks is not that unusual. Most people who develop the disease have a pre-existing problem with eczema, but in the cases where eczema isn’t the underlying cause, it can sometimes happen at the site of an injury or sunburn.

There are several potentially severe complications associated with eczema herpeticum. First, it is possible that the disease may spread to a person’s eyes, and that can potentially lead to blindness. In severe cases, it can also spread to the internal organs, which can result in potentially fatal organ failure. The most dangerous possibility is a complication called superinfection, which occurs when a bacterium called S. Aureus invades an area that already has a viral eczema herpeticum infection. When superinfection occurs, the illness is very often deadly, even with appropriate medical treatment.

Diagnosis can be difficult because of the condition's rarity and the fact that in the very early stages, it is possible for eczema herpeticum to look like a particularly severe eczema outbreak. If a person has any suspicions that he may be suffering from this illness, he is generally urged to let his physician know and ask for tests. Early diagnosis is generally crucial because of the dangerous complications that can develop in later stages. To make a positive diagnosis, a doctor will generally need a sample of the fluid from one of the sores, and he may decide to begin treatment even before the results come back as a precaution.

The normal treatment involves using an antiviral drug called acyclovir, which is considered good at slowing down the advance of herpes. It isn’t a cure, but it can help the body battle the virus. In serious situations, the drug may be given through intravenously to speed up the healing process. Antibiotic treatments are also common as a precautionary measure against the potential for superinfection.

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