Seborrheic Dermatitis and AIDS

The Effect of the HIV Virus on Seborrheic Dermatitis

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Seborrheic Dermatitis and AIDS can go hand in hand. At the end of 2001, over 40 million men, women, and children were estimated to be living with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. This virus is an RNA retrovirus that infects certain white blood cells, CD4+ cells. HIV infection leads to a profound alteration of the immune system, putting the infected person at risk for several different types of skin diseases.

One of the most common skin diseases experienced by HIV-infected individuals is seborrheic dermatitis.

What is Dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a general term that describes an inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis can have many causes and occurs in many forms. It usually involves an itchy rash on swollen, reddened skin.

Skin affected by dermatitis may blister, ooze, develop a crust or flake off. Examples of dermatitis include atopic dermatitis (eczema), dandruff, and rashes caused by contact with any of a number of substances, such as poison ivy, soaps and jewelry with nickel in it.

Dermatitis is a common condition that's not contagious and usually isn't life-threatening. Even so, it can make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. A combination of self-care steps and medications can help you treat dermatitis.

Cause of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is a common disease that affects 2 to 4 percent of the general population.

However, up to 85 percent of HIV-infected people experience seborrheic dermatitis at some time after they acquire the infection. The cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, but many investigators believe the yeast, Pityrosporum ovale, plays a role in the disease. It is further postulated that the alteration of the immune system in HIV-AIDS changes the way the skin responds to this yeast leading to the higher rate of infection.

Appearance of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis causes redness of the skin, which produces a yellow, waxy scale or flake. In people without HIV-AIDS, the rash of seborrheic dermatitis occurs mainly on the scalp, and around the eyebrows, ears, and mustache. In HIV-infected individuals, the rash also appears on the chest, back, armpits and groin.

Treatment of Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is treated with antifungal shampoos and topical corticosteroids. These treatments are also used for HIV-infected individuals who need to use them frequently. People with HIV-AIDS who are being treated with antiviral therapy have fewer outbreaks of seborrheic dermatitis. In many cases, the severity of the rash corresponds with the degree of clinical deterioration.

When to See a Doctor

A health care provider should evaluate cases of seborrheic dermatitis that do not respond to typical over-the-counter treatments. However, this does not necessarily imply that a person is HIV-positive. Someone with HIV-AIDS should notify their physician if they have a red, flaking rash that is getting worse so they can get appropriate treatment.

Mayo Clinic. Dermatitis.

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