Skin manifestations were observed in about one-fifth of a group of patients with COVID-19 in the Alessandro Manzoni Hospital in Lecco, in northern Italy.

Courtesy of Dr. Randy Jacobs

Dermatologists there were pulled from their usual duty to help with the pandemic and looked at what was going on with the skin in 148 COVID-19 inpatients. They excluded 60 who had started new drugs within 15 days to rule out acute drug reactions, then reported what they saw (J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2020 Mar 26. doi: 10.1111/jdv.16387).

Of the 88 COVID-19 patients, 20.5% developed skin manifestations. Eight of the 18 (44%) had skin eruptions at symptom onset, and the rest after hospitalization. Fourteen (78%) had red rashes, three had widespread urticaria, and one had chickenpox-like vesicles. The most commonly affected area was the trunk. Itching was mild or absent, and lesions usually healed up in a few days. Most importantly, skin manifestations did not correlate with disease severity.

These skin manifestations “are similar to cutaneous involvement occurring during common viral infections,” said the author of the report, Sebastiano Recalcati, MD, a dermatologist at Alessandro Manzoni Hospital.

COVID-19 skin manifestations can cloud the diagnosis, according to the authors of another report from Thailand, where the first case of COVID-19 outside of China was reported.

They described a case of a COVID-19 infection in a Bangkok hospital that masqueraded as dengue fever. A person there presented with only a skin rash, petechiae, and a low platelet count, and was diagnosed with Dengue because that’s exactly what it looked like, the authors wrote (J Am Acad Dermatol. 2020 Mar 22. pii: S0190-9622[20]30454-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2020.03.036).

The correct diagnosis, COVID-19, was made at a tertiary care center after the patient was admitted with respiratory problems.

“There is a possibility that a COVID-19 patient might initially present with a skin rash that can be misdiagnosed as another common disease. ... The practitioner should recognize the possibility that the patient might have only a skin rash” at first, said the lead author of that report, Beuy Joob, PhD, of the Sanitation1 Medical Academic Center, Bangkok, and a coauthor.

There are similar reports in the United States, too. “Many have wondered if COVID-19 presents with any particular skin changes. The answer is yes,” said Randy Jacobs, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, Riverside, who also has a private practice in southern California.

“COVID-19 can feature signs of small blood vessel occlusion. These can be petechiae or tiny bruises, and transient livedoid eruptions,” he said in an interview.

Dr. Jacobs had a 67-year-old patient who presented with a low fever, nasal congestion, postnasal drip, and a wet cough but no shortness of breath. It looked like a common cold. But a week later, the man had a nonpruritic blanching livedoid vascular eruption on his right anterior thigh, and blood in his urine, and he felt weak. The vascular eruption and bloody urine resolved in 24 hours, but the COVID-19 test came back positive and his cough became dry and hacking, and the weakness persisted. He’s in a hospital now and on oxygen, but not ventilated so far.

“Another dermatologist friend of mine also reported a similar transient COVID-19 unilateral livedoid eruption,” Dr. Jacobs said.

It suggests vaso-occlusion. Whether it’s neurogenic, microthrombotic, or immune complex mediated is unknown, but it’s “a skin finding that can help clinicians as they work up their patients with COVID-19 symptoms,” he noted.

Dr. Jacobs and the authors of the studies had no disclosures.