What Is Eczema Herpeticum? Everything to Know

Medically Reviewed By Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C
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Eczema herpeticum is a serious infection that occurs when the herpes simplex virus affects the skin. People with atopic dermatitis are more likely to develop the condition due to impaired function of the skin barrier. Less than 3% of people with atopic dermatitis will develop eczema herpeticum. The condition more commonly affects infants and children than adults. Treatment includes medications to manage symptoms and prevent the virus from spreading.

This article looks at the symptoms and causes of eczema herpeticum. It also discusses treatment options, when to contact a doctor, and more.

What are the symptoms of eczema herpeticum?

A pediatrician is talking to children.
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Symptoms of eczema herpeticum typically appear within 5–12 days of coming into contact with the virus.

Symptoms can include:

Seek immediate medical help if you or somebody else has symptoms of eczema herpeticum.

Learn more about skin infections.

What causes eczema herpeticum?

Eczema herpeticum occurs when the herpes simplex virus enters the skin and affects a large area. Herpes simplex virus 1, which causes cold sores, typically causes the condition. However, herpes simplex virus 2, which causes genital herpes, may also cause eczema herpeticum.

The virus spreads through skin-to-skin contact. If you have atopic dermatitis or another type of eczema, avoid skin-to-skin contact with a person with a cold sore or another symptom of the herpes simplex virus.

Also, do not share anything that touches the mouth, such as drinking glasses or lip products.

Learn more about skin infections and eczema.

What are the treatments for eczema herpeticum?

The main treatment for eczema herpeticum is an antiviral medication, such as acyclovir or valacyclovir.

In mild cases, your doctor may recommend oral antiviral therapy, typically for 7–12 days or until symptoms clear up.

In more severe cases, you may require intravenous antiviral medication in the hospital. In this case, your doctor will monitor your symptoms and advise on when you can begin taking oral antivirals.

If you develop a secondary bacterial infection, you may require antibiotics.

Learn more about treatments for viral infections.

When should I see a doctor?

It is important to seek immediate medical help when you notice signs of eczema herpeticum.

Eczema herpeticum can be a serious condition. Beginning treatment as early as possible can help reduce the risk of complications.

How do doctors diagnose eczema herpeticum?

First, your doctor may perform a physical examination, take a full medical history, and ask questions about your symptoms.

They will then typically carry out a skin biopsy. This involves removing a small sample of the affected skin for closer analysis. This will allow them to confirm the type of infection.

Learn more about biopsies.

What are the possible complications of eczema herpeticum?

Without prompt medical treatment, eczema herpeticum may lead to serious complications.

Complications can include:

It is important to seek medical advice as soon as you notice signs of eczema herpeticum. Treating the condition as early as possible may help to reduce the risk of complications.

Can I prevent eczema herpeticum?

If you have atopic dermatitis or are at risk of developing eczema herpeticum, avoid skin-to-skin contact with a person who has a cold sore.

Also avoid using objects that have touched another person’s mouth, such as lipstick, cutlery, or drinking glasses.

Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly. This will help to reduce the risk of spreading the virus from your hands to your mouth.


Eczema herpeticum is a potentially serious infection. The herpes simplex virus usually causes it.

Symptoms include an itchy rash with watery blisters that quickly spread, bleeding or crusting, and flu-like symptoms.

The main treatment for eczema herpeticum is antiviral therapy. Doctors may prescribe oral medication for mild cases. People with more severe cases may require IV medication in the hospital.

Avoiding skin-to-skin contact with a person with a cold sore can help reduce the risk of eczema herpeticum. Also, frequently wash your hands and avoid sharing objects that touch the mouth.

Seek immediate medical attention when symptoms of eczema herpeticum occur. Follow the doctor’s treatment advice to reduce the risk of complications.

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Medical Reviewer: Amanda Caldwell, MSN, APRN-C
Last Review Date: 2023 Feb 23
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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