Eczema Herpeticum

Eczema herpeticum is a viral skin infection caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV) or varicella zoster virus (VZV). It was previously known as Kaposi varicelliform eruption (don’t confuse this with Kaposi sarcoma, which occurs in late stage HIV). Herpes simplex virus 1 (HSV-1) is the most common causative organism, and may be associated with a coldsore in the patient or a close contact. It usually occurs in a patient with a pre-existing skin condition, such as atopic eczema or dermatitis, where the virus is able to enter the skin and cause an infection.



A typical presentation is a patient who suffers with eczema that has developed a widespread, painful, vesicular rash with systemic symptoms such as fever, lethargy, irritability and reduced oral intake. There will usually be lymphadenopathy (swollen lymph nodes).


The Rash

The rash is usually widespread and can affect any area of the body. It is erythematous, painful and sometimes itchy, with vesicles containing pus. The vesicles appear as lots of individual spots containing fluid. After they burst, they leave  small punched-out ulcers with a red base.



Viral swabs of the vesicles can be used to confirm the diagnosis, although treatment is usually started based on the clinical appearance.

Treatment is with aciclovir. A mild or moderate case may be treated with oral aciclovir, whereas more severe cases may require IV aciclovir.



Children with eczema herpeticum can be very unwell. When not treated adequately it can be a life threatening condition, particularly in patients that are immunocompromised.

Bacterial superinfection can occur, leading to a more severe illness. This needs treatment with antibiotics.


Last updated January 2020