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Michael Novakhov – SharedNewsLinks℠: Assessment of Acute Acral Lesions in a Case Series of Children and Adolescents During the COVID-19 Pandemic | Adolescent Medicine | JAMA Dermatology

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Key Points

What is the association between acute acral lesions and coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in children and adolescents?

In this case series of 20 patients aged 1 to 18 years with new-onset acral inflammatory lesions, all lacked systemic manifestations of COVID-19. Both reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction and serologic test results were negative for severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2.

An association between acral skin disease and COVID-19 has yet to be proved.

A novel coronavirus named severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has recently been identified as the cause of a pandemic called coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). In this context, some associated skin diseases have been described. Cutaneous lesions referred to as acute acro-ischemia have been reported as a possible sign of COVID-19 in adolescents and children.

To evaluate the pathogenesis of these newly described acute acral lesions.

Design, Setting, and Participants 
This prospective case series was conducted at La Fe University Hospital, a tertiary referral hospital in Valencia, Spain, between April 9 and April 15, 2020. Among 32 referred patients, 20 children and adolescents with new-onset inflammatory lesions did not have a diagnosis.

Patients were not exposed to any drug or other intervention.

Main Outcomes and Measures 
We performed reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction for SARS-CoV-2 and a range of blood tests for possible origins of the lesions. Skin biopsies were performed in 6 patients.

Of the 20 patients enrolled, 7 were female and 13 were male, with an age range of 1 to 18 years. Clinical findings fit into the following patterns: acral erythema (6 patients), dactylitis (4 patients), purpuric maculopapules (7 patients), and a mixed pattern (3 patients). None of the patients had remarkable hematologic or serologic abnormalities, including negative antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. Biopsies performed in 6 patients showed histologic findings characteristic of perniosis.

Conclusions and Relevance 
The clinical, histologic, and laboratory test results were compatible with a diagnosis of perniosis, and no evidence was found to support the implication of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

At the end of 2019, a novel coronavirus called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was identified as the cause of an outbreak of pneumonia and severe acute respiratory syndrome in Wuhan, China.1 On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organization declared coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) a public health emergency of international concern.2 Although SARS-CoV-2 infection can affect individuals of any age, severe illness is uncommon in children.

Recently, possible COVID-19–related skin changes have been described: mostly urticaria, drug-related eruptions, and chickenpox-like vesicles.3 In addition, cutaneous lesions referred to as acute acro-ischemia have been reported as a possible sign of SARS-CoV-2 infection in adolescents and children.4 In this article, we report an outbreak of acral skin lesions observed between April 9 and April 15, 2020.

A prospective case series was performed at La Fe University Hospital, Valencia, Spain, to assess the clinical and etiologic features of children and adolescents with acute acro-ischemia. Among 32 patients referred for acral lesions between April 9 and April 15, 2020, we included 20 who presented with new-onset acral inflammatory lesions without an obvious diagnosis of recognizable cause.

Each patient underwent a complete blood cell count; biochemistry tests for liver and kidney function, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and levels of ferritin, lactate dehydrogenase, and C-reactive protein; coagulation tests, including levels of D-dimer, cryoglobulins, and proteins C and S; urine sediment examination; autoimmunity tests for antinuclear antibodies (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay [ELISA] and indirect immunofluorescence assay), antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibodies, antiphospholipid antibodies (lupus anticoagulant, anti–β2-glycoprotein, anticardiolipin antibody), C3, C4, and interleukin 6; serologic tests for enterovirus, Epstein-Barr virus, human herpesvirus 6, parvovirus B19, mycoplasma, rubella, and measles; tests for immunoglobulin (Ig) G, IgM, and IgA (COVID-19 ELISA Kit, Vircell; sensitivity and specificity for IgG and IgM + IgA joint detection of 70% and 98%); and reverse transcriptase–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) by nasopharyngeal swab for SARS-CoV-2 (Viasure SARS-CoV-2 Real Time PCR Detection Kit, CerTest Biotec; detection limit ≥10 RNA copies per reaction for the ORF1ab and N genes).

This study was approved by the institutional review board of La Fe University Hospital, and written informed consent for each procedure and for publication was obtained from all patients or their families.

Twenty patients were included in this study, 13 of whom were male. Main characteristics of the patients are depicted in the Table.

No patient had any clinical symptoms (fever, fatigue, dry cough, anorexia, myalgia, dyspnea, sputum, headache, sore throat, smell or taste disorders, or rhinorrhea) suspected to be COVID-19–related.1,2,5 Similarly, no co-inhabitant showed any symptoms. Ten of 20 patients lived with relatives older than 50 years (6 of whom were older than 80 years). The mean (SD) age of the patients was 12.3 (4.3) years, and no patient was older than 18 years. Nine of them (45%) had a history of vascular reactive disease of the hands (Raynaud phenomenon or perniosis). Only patient 8 had a history of connective tissue disease (systemic lupus erythematosus). None of them reported previous drug intake except for patient 18, who had taken a single dose of 500 mg of acetaminophen 2 weeks before, and patient 10, who had started treatment for anemia with ferric sulfate 1 month before. Fifteen (75%) reported walking barefoot around the house during the quarantine. Of all patients, only 2 lived in a home equipped with a heating system. No abnormal test results were found in any patient except for patient 3 and patient 8, who had positive results for antinuclear antibodies (titers of 1/160 and 1/1280, respectively).

Dermatologic findings were classified into the following groups based on skin pattern: periungual erythema; inflammation of 1 or more fingers with occasional whitish areas, which we have called dactylitis; and purpuric maculopapules with occasional blisters. In some patients, we observed a mix of lesions. Acral erythema was found in 6 (30%) of the cases (Figure 1A), dactylitis in 4 (20%) (Figure 1B), purpuric maculopapules in 7 (35%) (Figure 1C), and a mixed pattern in 3 (15%) (Figure 1D).

We obtained 6 skin biopsy specimens from 6 different patients. Results are presented in the Table and Figure 2. In all patients, results of serologic and viral testing were negative for SARS-CoV-2 as well as other viruses.

On March 14, 2020, a state of emergency was declared in Spain, and strict stay-at-home rules were imposed. Citizens were alerted to a series of signs and symptoms to detect early SARS-CoV-2 infection. Reports of diverse cutaneous lesions as possible symptoms of COVID-19 have led to an increase in visits to our hospital for any of these manifestations.4 However, apart from temporal coexistence, the involvement of COVID-19 in the development of these lesions has not been proved so far.

In this article, we report a series of 20 cases of cutaneous lesions classifiable on the clinical spectrum of perniosis. Regarding histologic features, it is worth noting that there is bias because 5 of 6 biopsies were performed in patients with more severe lesions. Nevertheless, the histologic findings in all of them were characteristic of chilblains, confirming the clinical impression.6

When evaluating the pathogenesis of these lesions, several possibilities emerge. Both our cases and others reported in the literature have developed in a short space of time, generally with an onset in the second to third week of the pandemic.712 Some of the cases that have been described occurred in patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection demonstrated by RT-PCR or in symptomatic patients, but there are also a large number of patients, similar to ours, in whom the presence of the virus could not be demonstrated by RT-PCR, the serologic test results were negative, or the patients were asymptomatic.711

At least 3 different scenarios may be considered to explain the abrupt appearance, during the peak of the pandemic, of these characteristic lesions in a group of SARS-CoV-2–negative patients. One possibility is that the patients were in a very early stage of the disease, which would explain the negativity of PCR and serologic test results.8 This seems to us the least probable explanation, given that the mean (SD) duration of the disease before consultation in our series was 13.25 (8.11) days and we conducted follow-up in all patients for 4 additional weeks.

The second alternative is that acrocyanosis and perniosis were a subacute manifestation of the infection, in which patients no longer had detectable viral particles.812 Additionally, in situations in which the viral inoculum was small, it is conceivable that the RT-PCR results were negative, patients did not develop other symptoms, and the serologic response was of low intensity and not detectable with the tests currently available. Serologic responses have been shown to be lower in young individuals than in older ones.13 In this scenario, the only manifestations of COVID-19 could be endotheliitis and a facility for thrombosis in the distal small vessels of the extremities.8,9,14 Entotheliitis and thrombosis have been described in patients with severe COVID-19 with previous endothelial damage and cardiovascular comorbidity (eg, diabetes, hypertension, obesity).14,15 However, the absence of those risk factors and the unaltered results of the coagulation tests performed in our patients do not support this explanation.

Finally, a third possibility, which is not supported by the results of all of the complementary examinations carried out in our patients, is that these skin lesions are not induced by the virus but by the quarantine state itself. Accordingly, this quarantine perniosis appeared mainly in children isolated in houses that were not well suited for individuals who spent long periods barefoot or only wearing socks and with very little physical activity.

This study was carried out in a short period and with patients from a single center. Furthermore, there is still limited knowledge regarding the clinical manifestations of and detection methods for SARS-CoV-2.

In this case series of 20 children and adolescents, a relationship between acute acral skin changes and COVID-19 could not be demonstrated. Other studies with improved microbiologic tests or molecular techniques aimed at demonstrating the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in the skin may help to clarify this problem.

Accepted for Publication: May 15, 2020.

Published Online: June 25, 2020. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2020.2340

Open Access: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the CC-BY License. © 2020 Roca-Ginés J et al. JAMA Dermatology.

Corresponding Author: Ignacio Torres-Navarro, Department of Dermatology, Hospital Universitario y Politécnico la Fe, 106 Fernando Abril Martorell Ave, Valencia 46026, Spain (

Author Contributions:Drs Torres-Navarro and Botella-Estrada had full access to all of the data in the study and take responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Drs Botella-Estrada and Évole-Buselli contributed equally.

Concept and design: Roca-Ginés, Torres-Navarro, Sánchez-Arráez, Abril-Pérez, Botella-Estrada, Évole-Buselli.

Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.

Drafting of the manuscript: Roca-Ginés, Torres-Navarro, Sánchez-Arráez, Abril-Pérez, Martínez i Cózar, Botella-Estrada, Évole-Buselli.

Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Roca-Ginés, Torres-Navarro, Sánchez-Arráez, Abril-Pérez, Sabalza-Baztán, Pardo-Granell, Botella-Estrada, Évole-Buselli.

Statistical analysis: Roca-Ginés, Torres-Navarro.

Obtained funding: Torres-Navarro.

Administrative, technical, or material support: Roca-Ginés, Torres-Navarro, Abril-Pérez, Sabalza-Baztán, Pardo-Granell.

Supervision: Roca-Ginés, Torres-Navarro, Botella-Estrada, Évole-Buselli.

Other (diagnosis pathology):Martínez i Cózar.

Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.

Funding/Support: This study was funded by the Department of Dermatology of La Fe University Hospital.

Role of the Funder/Sponsor: The funder had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; pr
eparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and decision to submit the manuscript for publication.

Additional Contributions: We thank the patients and their families for granting permission to publish this information. We also thank María Dolores Gómez-Ruiz, PhD, and Carmina Sos-Lloret, MD, from the Department of Microbiology, Hospital Universitario y Politécnico La Fe, for their support. They did not receive compensation for this work.


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Michael Novakhov – SharedNewsLinks℠