Case Letter

Eczema Herpeticum in a Patient With Hailey-Hailey Disease Confounded by Coexistent Psoriasis

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Practice Points

  • Misdiagnosis of Hailey-Hailey disease (HHD) occurs because of a wide spectrum of presentations.
  • Hailey-Hailey disease and psoriasis are thought to occasionally koebnerize (isomorphic response) to areas of trauma.
  • Clinicians should remain suspicious and evaluate for herpes simplex virus infection in refractory or sudden exacerbation of HHD.



To the Editor:

Hailey-Hailey disease (HHD), also known as benign familial pemphigus, is an uncommon autosomal-dominant skin disease.1 Defects in the ATPase type 2C member 1 gene, ATP2C1, result in abnormal intracellular epidermal adherence, and patients experience recurring blisters in skin folds. Longitudinal white streaks of the fingernails also may be present.1 The illness does not appear until puberty and is heightened by the second or third decade of life. Family history often suggests the presence of disease.2 Misdiagnosis of HHD occurs because of a wide spectrum of presentations. The presence of superimposed infections and carcinomas may both obscure and exacerbate this disease.2

Herpes simplex viruse types 1 and 2 (HSV-1 and HSV-2) are DNA viruses that cause common recurrent diseases. Usually, HSV-1 is associated with infection of the mouth and HSV-2 is associated with infection of the genitalia.3 Longitudinal cutaneous lesions manifest as grouped vesicles on an erythematous base. Tzanck smear of herpetic vesicles will reveal the presence of multinucleated giant cells. A direct fluorescent antibody technique also may be used to confirm the diagnosis.3

Erythrodermic HHD disease is a rare condition; moreover, there are only a few reported cases with coexistence of HHD and HSV in the literature.3-6 We report a rare presentation of erythrodermic HHD and coexistent psoriasis with HSV superinfection.

A 69-year-old man presented to an outpatient dermatology clinic for evaluation and treatment of a rash on the scalp, face, back, and lower legs. The patient confirmed a dandruff diagnosis on the scalp and face as well as psoriasis on the trunk and extremities for the last 45 years. He described a history of successful treatment with topical agents and UV light therapy. A family history revealed that the patient’s father and 1 of 2 siblings had a similar rash and “skin problems.” The patient had a medical history of thyroid cancer treated with radiation treatment and a partial thyroidectomy 35 years prior to the current presentation as well as incompletely treated chronic hepatitis C.

A search of medical records revealed a punch biopsy from the posterior neck that demonstrated an acantholytic dyskeratosis with suprabasal acantholysis. Clinicians were unable to differentiate if it was Darier disease (DAR) or HHD. Treatment of the patient’s seborrheic dermatitis and acantholytic disorder was successful at that time with ketoconazole shampoo, ketoconazole cream, desonide cream, and triamcinolone cream. The patient remained stable for 5 years before presenting again to the dermatology clinic for worsening rash despite topical therapies.

At the current presentation, physical examination at the outpatient dermatology clinic revealed few scaly, erythematous, eroded papules distributed on the mid-back; erythematous greasy scaling on the scalp, face, and chest; and pink scaly plaques with white-silvery scale on the anterior lower legs. Histopathology of a specimen from the right mid-back demonstrated acantholysis with suprabasal clefting, hyperkeratosis, and parakeratosis with no dyskeratotic cells identified. The pathologic differential diagnosis included primary acantholytic processes including Grover disease, DAR, HHD, and pemphigus. Pathology from the right shin demonstrated acanthosis, confluent parakeratosis with associated decreased granular cell layer and collections of neutrophils within the stratum corneum, spongiosis, and superficial dermal perivascular chronic inflammation with focal exocytosis and dilated blood vessels in the papillary dermis. The clinical and pathological diagnosis on the lower legs was consistent with psoriasis. Diagnoses of seborrheic dermatitis, psoriasis on the lower legs, and HHD vs DAR on the back and chest were made. The patient was instructed to continue ketoconazole shampoo, ketoconazole cream, and desonide for seborrheic dermatitis; fluocinonide ointment 0.05% to the lower legs for psoriasis; and triamcinolone cream and a bland moisturizer to the back and chest for HHD.

Over the ensuing months, the rash worsened with erythema and scaling affecting more than half of the body surface area. Topical corticosteroids and bland emollients resulted in minimal success. Biologics and acitretin were considered for the psoriasiform dermatitis but avoided due to the patient’s medical history of thyroid cancer and chronic hepatitis C infection. Because the patient described prior success with UV light therapy for psoriasis, he requested light therapy. A subsequent trial of narrowband UVB light therapy initially improved some of the psoriasiform dermatitis on the trunk and extremities; however, after 4 weeks of treatment, the patient described pain in some of the skin and felt he was burned by minimal exposure to light therapy on one particular visit, which caused him to stop light therapy.

Approximately 2 weeks later, the patient presented to the emergency department stating his psoriasis was infected; he was diagnosed with psoriasis with secondary cellulitis and received intravenous vancomycin and piperacillin-tazobactam, with bacterial cultures demonstrating Corynebacterium and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Some improvement was noted in the patient’s skin after antibiotics were initiated, but he continued to describe worsening “burning and pain” throughout the psoriasis lesions. The patient’s care was transferred to the Veterans Affairs hospital where a dermatology inpatient consultation was placed.


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