Herpetic zoster folliculitis in the immunocompromised host

Shaigany, Sheila; Dabela, Ellen A.; Husain, Sameera; Grossman, Marc E.

Exclusive involvement of herpes zoster (HZ) in the follicular epithelium occurs rarely and lacks the typical cutaneous and histopathologic findings associated with herpesvirus. We describe a patient who underwent adjuvant chemotherapy for pancreatic cancer and subsequently had a nonvesicular rash for several weeks, ultimately proving to be herpetic zoster folliculitis.

Case report
A 78-year-old man with adenocarcinoma of the tail of the pancreas treated with surgical resection and 1 round of adjuvant chemotherapy with gemcitabine, docetaxel, and capecitabine presented with a 3-week history of a right leg rash. He first noticed the rash 5 days after the initiation of his chemotherapy. It initially appeared on his middorsal foot, and over the next couple weeks progressed proximally along the anteromedial leg to the distal knee and medial thigh. It was not painful and was minimally pruritic. Two and a half weeks after the onset of his rash, a fever to 38.5°C developed along with back pain. At this time, he had a nondiagnostic skin biopsy by an outside dermatologist and was given diphenhydramine and topical hydrocortisone with no improvement in his rash. He also had an abdominal computed tomography (CT) performed at an outside hospital, which found a left upper quadrant fluid collection. He was subsequently admitted to Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for evaluation.

On our examination, he had purpuric patches and edematous, purpuric papules along the right dorsal foot, extending proximally up the right anteromedial leg (Fig 1). He also had a few faint pink papules along the right hip and superior buttock (Fig 2). There were no vesicles. A comprehensive metabolic panel and liver function test results were normal. Noted were a leukocytosis level of 14,400/μL with 76% neutrophils and 1% bands, an elevated lipase level of 194 U/L (3-43 U/L), and an amylase level of 95 U/L (20-96 U/L). A CT scan of the abdomen confirmed an 8.0- × 7.0-cm fluid collection of the left upper quadrant of the abdomen. A skin biopsy of the right anteromedial leg found only alteration of the basal layer epidermis with a perivascular mononuclear cell infiltrate and extravasated erythrocytes. However, deeper sections had necrotic keratinocytes and multinucleated epithelial-type giant cells with ground-glass nuclei restricted to the follicular epithelium, confirming a diagnosis of follicular herpetic infection (Fig 3, A and B). A diagnosis of HZ in the L4 and L5 dermatomes was made, and the eruption promptly resolved with a 7-day course of valganciclovir (1-g tablet 3 times a day).


  • thumnail for herpetic_folliculitis.pdf herpetic_folliculitis.pdf application/pdf 1020 KB Download File

Also Published In

JAAD Case Reports

More About This Work

Academic Units
Published Here
September 11, 2015