From the Journals

Data about COVID-19-related skin manifestations in children continue to emerge


Two recent articles in the medical literature provide new information on mucocutaneous manifestations of COVID-19 in children, which may help guide dermatologists in making accurate diagnoses and stratifying children at risk for serious, systemic illness due to the virus.

In a single-center descriptive study carried out over a 9-month period, researchers in Madrid found that of 50 hospitalized children infected with COVID-19, 21 (42%) had mucocutaneous symptoms, most commonly exanthem, followed by conjunctival hyperemia without secretion and red cracked lips or strawberry tongue. In addition, 18 (36%) fulfilled criteria for Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C).

“Based on findings in adult patients, the skin manifestations of COVID-19 have been classified under five categories: acral pseudo-chilblain, vesicular eruptions, urticarial lesions, maculopapular eruptions, and livedo or necrosis,” David Andina-Martinez, MD, of Hospital Infantil Universitario Niño Jesús, Madrid, and colleagues wrote in the study, which was published online on April 2 in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

“Chilblain lesions in healthy children and adolescents have received much attention; these lesions resolve without complications after a few weeks,” they added. “Besides, other cutaneous manifestations of COVID-19 in children have been the matter of case reports or small case series. Nevertheless, the mucocutaneous manifestations in hospitalized children infected with SARS-CoV-2 and their implications on the clinical course have not yet been extensively described.”

In an effort to describe the mucocutaneous manifestations in children hospitalized for COVID-19, the researchers evaluated 50 children up to 18 years of age who were admitted between March 1 and Nov. 30, 2020, to Hospital Infantil Universitario Niño Jesús, which was designated as a pediatric reference center during the peak of the pandemic. The main reasons for admission were respiratory illness (40%) and MIS-C (40%).

Of the 50 patients, 44 (88%) had a positive RT-PCR for SARS-CoV-2 and 6 (12%) met clinical suspicion criteria and had a negative RT-PCR with a positive IgG serology. In 34 patients (68%), a close contact with a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 was referred, while the source of the infection remained unknown in the remaining 16 patients (32%).

The researchers reported that 21 patients (42%) had mucocutaneous symptoms, most commonly maculopapular exanthem (86%), conjunctival hyperemia (81%), and red cracked lips or strawberry tongue (43%). In addition, 18 of the 21 patients (86%) fulfilled criteria for MIS-C.

Dr. Christine Ko of Yale University, New Haven, Conn.

Dr. Christine Ko

“A tricky thing about MIS-C is that it often manifests 4-5 weeks after a child had COVID-19,” said Christine Ko, MD, professor of dermatology and pathology at Yale University, New Haven, Conn., who was asked to comment on the study. “MIS-C is associated with characteristic bright red lips and a red tongue that might resemble a strawberry. Such oral findings should prompt rapid evaluation for other signs and symptoms. There can be redness of the eyes or other more nonspecific skin findings (large or small areas of redness on the trunk or limbs, sometimes with surface change), but more importantly, fever, a rapid heartbeat, diarrhea, or breathing issues. The risk with MIS-C is a rapid decline in a child’s health, with admission to an intensive care unit.”

Dr. Andina-Martinez and his colleagues also contrast the skin findings of MIS-C, which are not generally on the hands or feet, with the so-called “COVID toe” or finger phenomenon, which has also been associated with SARS-CoV-2, particularly in children. “Only one of the patients in this series had skin involvement of a finger, and it only appeared after recovery from MIS-C,” Dr. Ko noted. “Distinguishing COVID toes from MIS-C is important, as COVID toes has a very good outcome, while MIS-C can have severe consequences, including protracted heart disease.”

In other findings, patients who presented with mucocutaneous signs tended to be older than those without skin signs and they presented at the emergency department with poor general status and extreme tachycardia. They also had higher C-reactive protein and D-dimer levels and lower lymphocyte counts and faced a more than a 10-fold increased risk of being admitted to the PICU, compared with patients who did not have skin signs (OR, 10.24; P = .003).

In a separate study published online on April 7 in JAMA Dermatology, Zachary E. Holcomb, MD, of the combined dermatology residency program at Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, and colleagues presented what is believed to be the first case report of reactive infectious mucocutaneous eruption (RIME) triggered by SARS-CoV-2. RIME is the preferred term for pediatric patients who present with mucositis and rash (often a scant or even absent skin eruption) triggered by various infectious agents.

The patient, a 17-year-old male, presented to the emergency department with 3 days of mouth pain and nonpainful penile erosions. “One week prior, he experienced transient anosmia and ageusia that had since spontaneously resolved,” the researchers wrote. “At that time, he was tested for SARS-CoV-2 infection via nasopharyngeal polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the results of which were positive.”

At presentation, the patient had no fever, his vital signs were normal, and the physical exam revealed shallow erosions of the vermilion lips and hard palate, circumferential erythematous erosions of the periurethral glans penis, and five small vesicles on the trunk and upper extremities. Serum analysis revealed a normal white blood cell count with mild absolute lymphopenia, slightly elevated creatinine level, normal liver function, slightly elevated C-reactive protein level, and normal ferritin level.

Dr. Holcomb and colleagues made a diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2–associated RIME based on microbiological results, which revealed positive repeated SARS-CoV-2 nasopharyngeal PCR and negative nasopharyngeal PCR testing for Mycoplasma pneumoniae, adenovirus, Chlamydophila pneumoniae, human metapneumovirus, influenza A/B, parainfluenza 1 to 4, rhinovirus, and respiratory syncytial virus. In addition, titers of Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgM levels were negative, but Mycoplasma pneumoniae IgG levels were elevated.

The lesions resolved with 60 mg of oral prednisone taken daily for 4 days. A recurrence of oral mucositis 3 months later responded to 80 mg oral prednisone taken daily for 6 days.

“It’s not surprising that SARS-CoV-2 is yet another trigger for RIME,” said Anna Yasmine Kirkorian, MD, chief of the division of dermatology at Children’s National Hospital, Washington, who was asked to comment about the case report.

Dr. Anna Yasmine Kirkorian, Children’s National Hospital, Washington

Dr. Anna Yasmine Kirkorian

“The take-home message is for clinicians to be aware of this association and distinguish these patients from those with MIS-C, because patients with MIS-C require monitoring and urgent systemic treatment. RIME and MIS-C may potentially be distinguished clinically based on the nature of the mucositis (hemorrhagic and erosive in RIME, dry, cracked lips with ‘strawberry tongue’ in MIS-C) but more importantly patients with RIME lack laboratory evidence of severe systemic inflammation,” such as ESR, CRP, or ferritin, she said.

“A final interesting point in this article was the recurrence of mucositis in this patient, which could mean that recurrent mucositis/recurrent RIME might be yet another manifestation of ‘long-COVID’ (now called post-Acute Sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection) in some patients,” Dr. Kirkorian added. She noted that the American Academy of Dermatology–International League of Dermatologic Societies COVID-19 Dermatology Registry and articles like these “provide invaluable ‘hot off the presses’ information for clinicians who are facing the protean manifestations of a novel viral epidemic.”

The researchers reported having no financial disclosures.

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