Almost 75% of doctors and nurses in and around Wuhan, China, where the outbreak first emerged, reported skin problems during a single week in early February 2020, in a survey of health care workers (HCW) caring for COVID-19 patients at five university and five regional hospitals. Hands, cheeks, and the nasal bridge were the most commonly affected areas, with skin dryness, maceration, papules, and erythema the most common problems, according to research published in the British Journal of Dermatology.
In New York City, masks in particular are “really an issue,” said Ellen Marmur, MD, a dermatologist in private practice and an associate clinical professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York.
She’s dealing with patients who have abrasions and skin infections at the tip of the nose, bruising from the metal strap that goes across the bridge of the nose, and skin irritation from the straps. “Rosacea is [also] definitely flaring up, [and] people’s acne is definitely flaring up, not only because of the stress, but because of the sweat and humidity” that builds up under the masks, she said.
“It’s not a life-threatening thing, but it’s definitely something we’ve been helping people with,” she said. This includes her husband, a cardiologist pulling 12-hour shifts in a New York City hospital wearing an N95 mask; when he comes home, the tip of his nose is red and abraded.
Treatment entails first aid skin care: a dab of a gentle ointment like Aquaphor to prevent abrasions while the mask is on and to help them heal after it’s off, and bacitracin if infection is a worry. For acne and rosacea flares, a course of minocycline or topical clindamycin might help, Dr. Marmur said.
Although almost 75% of the doctors and nurses in the Chinese study reported skin problems, the response rate was low, just 376 of the 1,000 surveyed (37.6%). That might have tilted the results to providers who actually ran into problems, wrote the investigators, led by Ping Lin of the department of dermatology and venereology at Peking University First Hospital, Beijing.
Still, 280 (74.5%) reported adverse skin reactions from caring for COVID-19 patients. “Of note, this rate was much higher than the rate of occupational contact dermatitis (31.5%) in HCWs under normal working condition[s], and that of adverse skin reactions (21.4%-35.5%)” during the outbreak of another coronavirus in 2003, severe acute respiratory syndrome, they wrote.
Most providers in the study washed their hands more than 10 times a day, but only about 22% applied hand cream afterwards, they reported.
On multivariate analysis, working in hospitals harder hit by the pandemic (odds ratio, 2.41; P = .001), working on inpatient wards (OR, 2.44; P = .003), wearing full-body personal protective equipment over 6 hours (OR, 4.26; P < .001), and female sex (OR, 1.87; P = .038) increased the risk of adverse skin reactions. The team suggested moisturizers would help to protect against hand dermatitis, and alcohol-based products instead of soaps “as the former show high antimicrobial activity and low risks of skin damage.” Also, “restricting duration of wearing” of protection gear “to no more than 6 hours would help.”
The study investigators reported that they had no conflicts of interest.
SOURCE: Lin P et al. Br J Dermatol. 2020 Apr 7. doi: 10.1111/bjd.19089.