Disseminated Hyperkeratotic and Granulomatous Nodules in a Child with Fatal Epstein–Barr-Virus–Associated Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis


Address correspondence to Rudolf A. Herbst, M.D., Department of Dermatology and Allergology, Klinikum Bayreuth GmbH, Preuschwitzer Strasse 101, D-95445 Bayreuth, Germany, or e-mail: r.herbst@derma.de.


Abstract:  Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis is a rare and potentially fatal syndrome associated with a variety of genetic, malignant, autoimmune, or infectious conditions. The importance of cutaneous presentations of this syndrome has only recently been brought forward. We report the first case of Epstein–Barr-virus–associated hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis presenting with papulonodular and granulomatous skin lesions. A girl of African origin developed several umbilicated papules on her extremities and face at the age of 18 months. She was born in Germany, had never visited Africa, and was otherwise healthy. Over the next 5 months the lesions progressed in size and number and became hyperkeratotic. Histopathologic analysis of early lesions revealed a superficial lympho- and plasmacellular dermatitis with some features of panniculitis. Later biopsy specimens from nodular lesions showed the formation of tuberculoid granulomas in the deep dermis. At the age of 23 months she became severely ill, rapidly developing high fever, hepatosplenomegaly, icterus, pancytopenia, and ascites. On the basis of bone marrow and lymph node biopsies, the diagnosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis was established. However, this phenomenon could not be detected in any of the skin specimens. An active Epstein–Barr virus infection was diagnosed by polymerase chain reaction in blood, lymphoid tissue, and skin. Despite chemotherapy with etoposide and cortisone, the girl expired 14 days after clinical onset of her systemic disease.