ID dermatology: Advancements, but new challenges, over 50 years


Venereologists no more

There’s been another big change in the field. “Back in the not too distant past, dermatologists in the U.S. were referred to as ‘dermatologist-venereologists.’ ” It goes back to the time when syphilis wasn’t diagnosed and treated early, so patients often presented with secondary skin complications and went to dermatologists for help. As a result, “dermatologists became the most experienced at treating it,” Dr. Tyring said.

Dr. Stephen Tyring with a patient.

That’s faded from practice. Part of the reason is that as late as 2000, syphilis seemed to be on the way out; the Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention even raised the possibility of elimination. Dermatologists turned their attention to other areas.

It might have been short-sighted, Dr. Rosen said. Syphilis has made a strong comeback, and drug-resistant gonorrhea has also emerged globally and in at least a few states. No other medical field has stepped in to take up the slack. “Ob.gyns. are busy delivering babies, ID [physicians are] concerned about HIV, and urologists are worried about kidney stones and cancer.” Other than herpes and genital warts, “we have not done well” with management of sexually transmitted diseases, he said.

“I could sense” his frustration

The first issue of Dermatology News carried an article and photospread about scabies that could run today, except that topical permethrin and oral ivermectin have largely replaced benzyl benzoate and sulfur ointments for treatment in the United States. In the article, Scottish dermatologist J. O’D. Alexander, MD, called scabies “the scourge of mankind” and blamed it’s prevalence on “an offhand attitude to the disease which makes control very difficult.”

“I could sense this man’s frustration that people were not recognizing scabies,” Dr. Kovarik said, and it’s no closer to being eradicated than it was in 1970. “It’s still around, and we see it in our clinics. It’s a horrible disease in kids we see in dermatology not infrequently,” and treatment has only advanced a bit.

The article highlights what hasn’t changed much in ID dermatology over the years. Common warts are another one. “With all the evolution in medicine, we don’t have any better treatments approved for common warts than we ever had.” Injecting cidofovir “works great,” but access is a problem, Dr. Tyring said.

Onychomycosis has also proven a tough nut to crack. Readers back in 1970 counted the introduction of the antifungal, griseofulvin, as a major advancement in the 1960s; it’s still a go-to for tinea capitis, but it didn’t work very well for toenail fungus. Terbinafine (Lamisil), approved in 1993, and subsequent developments have helped, but the field still awaits more effective options; a few potential new agents are in the pipeline.

Although there have been major advancements for serious systemic fungal infections, “we’ve mainly seen small steps forward” in ID dermatology, Dr. Tyring said.

Dr. Tyring, Dr. Kovarik, and Dr. Rosen said they had no relevant disclosures.


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