Eczema Herpeticum – What is it and is it dangerous?

Eczema Herpeticum (extract from www.eczemaguide.com)

Eczema herpeticum – this is a term that I keep hearing of moms in forums sharing that their children have repeated eczema herpeticum during the year and also of delayed diagnosis where it’s not identified as herpeticum promptly.

If you search eczema herpeticum’s definition – you’ll see it’s often stated as a rare life-threatening complications that results from infections caused by herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2. The virus enters the child’s body through the defective skin (common in eczema children) and attacks multiple organs, including eyes, brain, lung and liver. However, judging from moms’ feedback, it isn’t that rare, so let’s learn more about it!

Is Eczema Herpeticum Dangerous?

Before we get to that, let’s look at how one gets it. Usually the child comes into contact or catches the virus from someone with cold sores. Cold sores is not dangerous and usually it causes blisters around the mouth and is accompanied with fever or flu-like symptoms. Cold sores is most contagious when there are blisters, but can also spread when there’s no blister as the herpes simplex virus can lie dormant in one’s body. The virus can be spread by kissing, sharing utensils, lip balm or generally, coming into contact with the mucus of the infected person.

Now, here’s the DANGER part – for a child with eczema, the herpes simplex virus can enter the skin and sets off a chain of infections, including large scale bacterial skin infection. The symptoms are:

1. 5-12 days after exposure – Rashes with blisters at eczema lesions/skin patches

2. Spreading of the blisters with yellow pus, accompanied with flu, fever and body aches

3. Blisters start to get painful with bleeding, scabbing

4. Widespread at body parts, usually neck, head, upper body with swollen lymph nodes

If left to run its course, the infections may take over body organs, including the eyes. Should the eczema on your child looks different than normal, and starts to blister with pus, it’s recommended to go to the hospital for a prompt diagnosis and treatment.

Diagnosing and Treating Eczema Herpeticum

Diagnosis can be quickly conducted by antibody staining of the pus filled vesticles or a viral culture test. Sometimes, it may be mistaken as small pox or chicken pox, but in any case, an anti-viral drug such as acyclovir or valaciclovir can be administered. For skin with bacterial infections caused by staph, antibiotics is also given to reduce the secondary infection risk.

Be prompt in going to hospital as research shows that the delay in one day increases hospital stay by 11% and one-third of the patients have staph infections, while 3.9% has blood infected and 3.8% needs to stay in intensive care.

As for why moms are sharing that their children gets repeated attacks, it’s because the virus stays in the child’s body and sometimes when there’s a trigger such as fever/flu or stress, it can set off the virus. Some children need to be on daily anti-viral drug which so far, seems to be minimal long-term negative effect as the drug attacks the virus but not the child.

Learn more about eczema and infection from National Eczema Society here.

Update on research in September 2015, Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology – Certain genetic variants in a gene (iFNGR1) have been studied to increase susceptibility of atopic dermatitis patients to eczema herpeticum.

Update on May 2017 article on Eczema Herpeticum written by MedicalNewsToday.com

A note on Marcie’s experience: When she got chickenpox, she didn’t get the anti-viral drug because her skin wasn’t so bad. When she got Hand-Foot-Mouth-Disease the second time, she was given anti-bacterial antibiotics because her skin looked red and infected.

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Last update was on: 14 November, 2018 12:58 pm
79 Comments
  1. Hi all my son too has aso had herpeticum ezcema 3 times in last year and has currently just finished anti viral treatment but thing is he finished treatment yesterday afternoon and by last night it had all flared up again, so telephoned hospital to be told take him to your GP tomorrow, he also suffers with discoid ezcema so his skin is in a terrible state and you cannot use steroid creams whilst on anti viral treatment

    • Sorry to hear of this Karen! I know that when my daughter had chicken pox, and just a month ago Shingles!, her eczema got worse. We’re fortunate to survive chickenpox without any med, not that I didn’t want to, but wasn’t aware of the risk then.
      Have a good weekend, take care,
      Mei

  2. […] Marcie Mom: Thank you Louise for your sharing, and indeed many parents share about their worry that an ‘allergy accident’ will happen to their child and can certainly identify with your journey. For more on eczema herpeticum, refer here. […]

  3. Thanks for the blog. I never know there is this kind of ezcema until reading this. My girl just had chickenpox last week, she still in recovering period (11 days now), the pox has stopped and but still some itchy pox to heal up.
    My husband just got coldsore but didnt touch her at all. We went to see pharmacist and said this was chickenpox. Sometimes it is so hard to judge, but I do hope it WAS chickenpox !

  4. […] Marcie Mom: When did your eczema herpeticum occur and what happened before and during treatment? (an archived post on Eczema Herpeticum – What is it and is it dangerous?) […]

  5. Hi,
    My daughter just got eczema herpeticum this past week. She is 4 and has had terrible eczema since birth. I don’t know where she contracted the virus, but she started itching spots that looked far worse than normal eczema on Wednesday. Thursday, the pediatrician told us “it is viral herpes”, gave us aciclovir and a topical steroid and that’s it. I was frustrated and have done a lot of research on it to find the “eczema herpeticum”. Thanks for the blogs and stories everyone – I have been very scared, but find comfort in hearing other moms’ stories.

    • Thanks for dropping by my blog, and hope Cassidy is better now. Your doc did give you what’s commonly prescribed.. maybe too busy to explain more and I’m glad you found some comfort from reading this post 🙂
      Keep us updated on how the condition goes, keeping my fingers crossed for you it’s one-time and then be so behind it for your family.
      Hugs!
      Mei

  6. My 10 year old daughter had this 4 years ago, the doctor kept telling me it was chicken pox but after she got really bad we discovered she had this.

    It’s awful, it ended up so bad that she lost the top layers of skin off her legs and caught a secondary infection, she was off from school for a month while we dressed and creamed her legs 3 times a day. My heart goes out to anyone suffering from this.

    My daughter has had eczema since she was born and it is showing no signs of easing up, they have also stopped telling me that she will grow out of it. I had never heard of eczema herpeticum until she got it.

    • Hi Rhonda, Thanks for dropping by my blog and leaving a comments, and sorry to hear of such bad experience in treatment of herpeticum 🙁
      Hugs, and pray that your girl won’t get it again!
      Mei

  7. With the herpes eczema is there blisters is that how u know?

    • Hi Tiffany!
      My girl hasn’t had eczema herpeticum before, but from what I know, if the rashes progress to blisters with prolonged fever, definitely require visit to doctor.
      Take care!
      Mei

      • My 5 month old had it covered her whole body! The dermatologist said if she gets a fever or stops eating rush her to ER! (Or a children’s hospital)There is no point in taking th to a doctors office she said because they would just send her to the children’s hospital!

        • Oh dear Kira, hugs! Is it eczema herpeticum? It is pretty serious and absolutely right that for emergency, your child will require hospital care. Is there any medication? Hope your child will get better soon. Your child has eczema? Infected by cold sores of another? Be very careful of sharing towels, lots of hugs and hope to hear everything is going well for you.

  8. Very informative article! My son had it and now he is on the antiviral for 6 months.

    • Hello. I realize this post is a few years old but I thought id try anyway. I was wondering how your son is doing now? Has he had another outbreak? Was he still having outbreaks while on the meds? Did he have a history of eczema? Im trying to find some answers but it seems pretty hard to come by since most posts are few years old. Some info would be GREATLY appreciated. Thanks.

      • Have you figured anything out yet? When I responded to this post, my daughter had just been diagnosed and I was very concerned. This was a couple years ago and she hasn’t had it since or had any complications. She had a severe history of eczema all over her body. It’s gotten better as she ages (now 6 1/2) and her skin is just dry not bumpy and red.
        I’d be happy to answer any other specific questions you have, as it was hard for me to find answers too 🙂

        • I realize this was posted years ago, but my son is just going through this. It’s now been the third day on Acycolvir but not seeing much improvement. How long does it take to start seeing improvement?

        • Hi Jennifer, sorry to hear of eczema herpeticum for your son. I looked through the comments of those on this page, and seemed like 2 weeks is about the time for improvement. I searched online too, seemed that 2-4 weeks is the norm. Perhaps, after a week if there’s no improvement, you can call the doctor up? I see that there may be secondary infection, so sometimes antibiotic also prescribed

          http://www.bad.org.uk/shared/get-file.ashx?id=197&itemtype=document
          https://patient.info/health/atopic-eczema/eczema-herpeticum#nav-4

          Take care, and hope he gets better soon!
          Mei

        • Thanks Pam for dropping by to help 🙂 Good to hear that your daughter’s eczema is better! She’s about a year older than mine, who doesn’t have much eczema now but very bad biting and pinching skin habits 🙁

          Take care!
          Mei

      • Hi Jus my son is not doing too bad now he hasnt had an outbreak for some time now although we do have to keep antiviral cream to hand at all time just in case – he is still suffering severely with discoid eczema and has many steroids for it but as soon as we see the signs of herpeticum all steroids must be stopped and anti viral given instead which works wonders but we were also lucky as he never actually became ill when he has had it.

        • Hi Karen. I’m not sure if it was you I asked all the questions to. I thought it was Ana. Anyhow first off I sincerely hope your son gets better. We have been on a crazy roller coaster ourselves with eczema, staph infections, and EH. My breastfed LO had eczema starting at 3 months then broke out with pustules and a fever at 7 months. That’s when he was diagnosed with EH. Not long after being discharged he had another bad flare. This time also testing positive for mrsa. Since then I have changed my diet DRAMATICALLY! Doc says he has no current visible mrsa infection but it can always be dormant, as anyone can get it anywhere. (Ca-mrsa). Anyways he was put on a suppression dose of Acyclovir. He still breaks out, not the full blown pustules but patches of tiny clear fluid blisters. All while still on his meds. My search is to figure out if other people have noticed things or foods that cause flares of the EH? Does anyone still flare while on the acyclovir. Has weather changes helped, etc. Anyone reading this, if you have any info, help, or anything at all it will be greatly appreciated. Thanks for the response.

        • Hi Jus,

          I contacted a few parents who have shared in this post to help with your question. Ana did respond, scroll all the way to the end for her reply to you
          http://eczemablues.com/2012/04/eczema-herpeticum-what-is-it-and-is-it-dangerous/#comment-38010

          Hope it’s been helpful 🙂
          Mei

        • Thanks Karen for dropping by to share!

      • Hi Jus, thanks for dropping by by my blog; I’d email the email who have responded to this post and see if they can help to answer your question.

        Maybe you can share the situation of your child so it’d be easier for them to share specific to your case.

        From what I know, eczema herpeticum happens for those with eczema as the virus penetrate their skin barrier which is defective. As it’s a virus, there’s a chace of recurring. Some parents have shared that their kids have to be on the anti-viral med for quite a few months (likely in different dosage).

        It’s possible for flare-up while on the med, but from what I’ve read so far, not that many parents reported that. Mostly is a relapse months later.

        Take care,
        Mei

        • Welcome Shelina and glad to be of some help 🙂 (Carl’s reply in his comment further below). Hope you’re better since you first dropped by this page in April, take care!

        • Hi mei i cant seem to find carls reply

        • Hi ive had two attacks so far of eh and now ive been put on 500mg aciclovir everyday but im still seeing a few poping up from time to time on my arms and hands mainly. Is this normal im very worried im going to be on this drug for life

        • Thank you mei

        • Hi Shelina, I contacted Carl to help with your question. I’ve read in some forums that even some kids have to be on medication for long period o.w. relapse. Did you share your concern with your doctor? Take care, hugs!

  9. Thanks for always reading my post! And commenting! Thanks again!

  10. Yeesh, I had this once as a kid. Was in Germany and had it diagnosed & treated by a competent doctor though I never knew what it was. I didn’t know it could progress to the organs. Definitely important to catch it in time.

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