From the Journals

Is the presence of enanthem a clue for COVID-19?



A study that observed oral petechial lesions in a small number of COVID-19 patients with skin rash fortifies growing evidence that the virus has dermatologic manifestations. Larger studies should explore and confirm this association, the study’s authors and other experts suggested.

Dermatologists are already aware of the connection between enanthem and viral etiology. “As seen with other viral infections, we wondered if COVID-19 could produce enanthem in addition to skin rash exanthem,” one of the study author’s, Juan Jiménez-Cauhe, MD, a dermatologist with Hospital Universitario Ramon y Cajal, Madrid, said in an interview. He and his colleagues summarized their findings in a research letter in JAMA Dermatology.

They examined the oral cavity of 21 COVID-19 patients at a tertiary care hospital who also had a skin rash from March 30 to April 8. They classified enanthems into four categories: petechial, macular, macular with petechiae, or erythematovesicular. Six of the patients presented with oral lesions, all of them located in the palate; in one patient, the enanthem was macular, it was petechial in two patients and was macular with petechiae in three patients. The six patients ranged between the ages of 40 and 69 years; four were women.

Petechial or vesicular patterns are often associated with viral infections. In this particular study, the investigators did not observe vesicular lesions.

On average, mucocutaneous lesions appeared about 12 days after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms. “Interestingly, this latency was shorter in patients with petechial enanthem, compared with those with a macular lesion with petechiae appearance,” the authors wrote.

This shorter time might suggest an association for SARS-CoV-2, said Dr. Jiménez-Cauhe. Strong cough may have also caused petechial lesions on the palate, but it’s unlikely, as they appeared close in time to COVID-19 symptoms. It’s also unlikely that any drugs caused the lesions, as drug rashes can take 2-3 weeks to appear.

Dr. Esther Freeman, director of global health dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston

Dr. Esther Freeman

This fits in line with other evidence of broader skin manifestations appearing at the same time or after COVID-19, Esther Freeman, MD, said in an interview. Dr. Freeman, director of global health dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, is the principal investigator of the COVID-19 Dermatology Registry, a collaboration of the American Academy of Dermatology and International League of Dermatological Societies.

The study’s small cohort made it difficult to establish a solid association between the oral lesions and SARS-CoV-2. “However, the presence of enanthem in a patient with a skin rash is a useful finding that suggests a viral etiology rather than a drug reaction. This is particularly useful in COVID-19 patients, who were receiving many drugs as part of the treatment,” Dr. Jimenez-Cauhe said. Future studies should assess whether the presence of enanthem and exanthem lead physicians to consider SARS-CoV-2 as possible agents, ruling out infection with a blood or nasopharyngeal test.

This study adds to the growing body of knowledge on cutaneous and mucocutaneous findings associated with SARS-CoV-2 infection, Jules Lipoff, MD, of the department of dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, said in an interview. “One challenge in evaluating these findings is that these findings are nonspecific, and medication reactions can often cause similar rashes, such as morbilliform eruptions that can be associated with both viruses and medications.”

Dr. Jules Lipoff, department of dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Dr. Jules Lipoff

Enanthems, as the study authors noted, are more specific to viral infections and are less commonly associated with medication reactions. “So, even though this is a small case series with significant limitations, it does add more evidence that COVID-19 is directly responsible for findings in the skin and mucous membranes,” said Dr. Lipoff.

Dr. Freeman noted that the study may also encourage clinicians to look in a patient’s mouth when assessing for SARS-CoV-2. Additional research should examine these data in a larger population.

Several studies by Dr. Freeman, Dr. Lipoff, and others strongly suggest that SARS-CoV-2 has a spectrum of associated dermatologic manifestations. One evaluated perniolike skin lesions (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020 Aug; 83[2]:486-92). The other was a case series from the COVID-19 registry that examined 716 cases of new-onset dermatologic symptoms in patients from 31 countries with confirmed/suspected SARS-CoV-2 (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020 Jul 2;S0190-9622[20]32126-5.).

The authors of the report had no disclosures.

SOURCE: Jimenez-Cauhe J et al. JAMA Dermatol. 2020 Jul 15. doi: 10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.2550.

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