Chilblain-like Lesions Reported in Children Thought to Have COVID-19

Richard Mark Kirkner

May 21, 2020

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Two reports of chilblain-like lesions in children suspected of having COVID-19 in Spain and Italy have been published, joining other recent reports of such cases in the United States and elsewhere.

These symptoms should be considered a sign of infection with the virus, but the symptoms themselves typically don't require treatment, according to the authors of the two new reports, from hospitals in Milan and Madrid, published in Pediatric Dermatology.

In the first study, Cristiana Colonna, MD, and colleagues at Hospital Maggiore Polyclinic in Milan described four cases of chilblain-like lesions in children ages 5-11 years with mild COVID-19 symptoms.

In the second, David Andina, MD, and colleagues in the ED and the departments of dermatology and pathology at the Child Jesus University Children's Hospital in Madrid published a retrospective study of 22 cases in children and adolescents ages 6-17 years who reported to the hospital ED from April 6 to 17, the peak of the pandemic in Madrid.

In all four of the Milan cases, the skin lesions appeared several days after the onset of COVID-19 symptoms, although all four patients initially tested negative for COVID-19. However, Dr. Colonna and colleagues wrote that, "given the fact that the sensitivity and specificity of both nasopharyngeal swabs and antibody tests for COVID-19 (when available) are not 100% reliable, the question of the origin of these strange chilblain-like lesions is still elusive." Until further studies are available, they emphasized that clinicians should be "alert to the presentation of chilblain-like findings" in children with mild symptoms "as a possible sign of COVID-19 infection."

All the patients had lesions on their feet or toes, and a 5-year-old boy also had lesions on the right hand. One patient, an 11-year-old girl, had a biopsy that revealed dense lymphocytic perivascular cuffing and periadnexal infiltration.

"The finding of an elevated d-dimer in one of our patients, along with the clinical features suggestive of a vasoocclusive phenomenon, supports consideration of laboratory evaluation for coagulation defects in asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic children with acrovasculitis-like findings," Dr. Colonna and colleagues wrote. None of the four cases in Milan required treatment, with three cases resolving within 5 days.

Like the Milan cases, all 22 patients in the Madrid series had foot or toe lesions and three had lesions on the fingers. This larger series also reported more detailed symptoms about the lesions: pruritus in nine patients (41%) and mild pain in seven (32%). A total of 10 patients had systemic symptoms of COVID-19, predominantly cough and rhinorrhea in 9 patients (41%), but 2 (9%) had abdominal pain and diarrhea. These symptoms, the authors said, appeared a median of 14 days (range, 1-28 days) before they developed chilblains.

A total of 19 patients were tested for COVID-19, but only 1 was positive.

This retrospective study also included contact information, with one patient having household contact with a single confirmed case of COVID-19; 12 patients recalled household contact who were considered probable cases of COVID-19, with respiratory symptoms.

Skin biopsies were obtained from the acral lesions in six patients, all showing similar results, although with varying degrees of intensity. All biopsies showed features of lymphocytic vasculopathy. Some cases showed mild dermal and perieccrine mucinosis, lymphocytic eccrine hidradenitis, vascular ectasia, red cell extravasation and focal thrombosis described as "mostly confined to scattered papillary dermal capillaries, but also in vessels of the reticular dermis."

The only treatments Dr. Andina and colleagues reported were oral analgesics for pain and oral antihistamines for pruritus when needed. One patient was given topical corticosteroids and another a short course of oral steroids, both for erythema multiforme.

Dr. Andina and colleagues wrote that the skin lesions in these patients "were unequivocally categorized as chilblains, both clinically and histopathologically," and, after 7-10 days, began to fade. None of the patients had complications, and had an "excellent outcome," they noted.

Dr. Colonna and colleagues had no conflicts of interest to declare. Dr. Andina and colleagues provided no disclosure statement.

Ped Derm. Published online May 6 and 9, 2020. Report Abstract, Study Abstract

This article originally appeared on MDedge.

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