Photo Rounds

Purple oral plaques

A 49-year-old woman presented to an urgent care facility with progressive weakness, cough, and purple plaques on her palate and buccal mucosa of 1 month’s duration. Dermatology was consulted.

What is your diagnosis?



Purple oral plaques

The papules were clinically consistent with Kaposi sarcoma (KS) and confirmed with a biopsy from the buccal mucosa. The patient had not been given a diagnosis of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) prior to this presentation. However, the physician confirmed the diagnosis with RNA titers. A CD4 count < 40 cells/mm3 (reference range, 500-1200 cells/mm3) pointed to her progression to AIDS. A chest X-ray revealed multiple nodules; a subsequent biopsy indicated that they were consistent with KS.

KS is a low-grade tumor of vascular origin associated with human herpesvirus-8 (HHV-8). It most often presents on the skin as flat to raised pink to deep purple lesions. It can manifest in the oral mucosa, viscera, and other organs, which can portend a worse prognosis because of the risks associated with bleeding and organ perforation.

There are 4 types of KS.

  • Classic KS occurs most often in elderly men of Mediterranean descent.
  • HIV-associated KS can occur at any time during HIV infection but is more common as CD4 counts fall. HIV-associated KS increased in frequency dramatically in the United States during the early years of the HIV pandemic prior to effective antiretroviral therapy (ART).
  • Endemic KS occurs in equatorial Africa, where there is a natural increased transmission rate of HHV-8.
  • Iatrogenic KS can occur following treatment with immunosuppressive therapies.

Our patient was admitted to the Infectious Disease Service and given ART. Chemotherapy was discussed (and sometimes is warranted in extensive visceral disease) but the patient and her specialists opted for ART alone. In addition to ART, she was started on daily trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for pneumocystis prophylaxis.

At 6 months’ follow-up with Infectious Disease, the patient’s oral lesions resolved, CD4 count increased above 200 cells/mm3, and HIV RNA titers fell.

Photos and text for Photo Rounds Friday courtesy of Jonathan Karnes, MD (copyright retained). Dr. Karnes is the medical director of MDFMR Dermatology Services, Augusta, ME.

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