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Acrodermatitis and Your Child

What Is Acrodermatitis?

Acrodermatitis, or Gianotti-Crosti syndrome, is a common skin condition that typically affects children between the ages of 3 months and 15 years. The full name of the disease is "papular acrodermatitis of childhood."

Acrodermatitis causes itchy, red or purple blisters to form on the body. Children may also develop a bloated abdomen, a fever, and swollen, sore lymph nodes. Although acrodermatitis itself isn’t contagious, the viruses that cause it are contagious. This means children who regularly interact with one another may contract a virus and develop acrodermatitis at the same time. Acrodermatitis may also occur in the siblings of children who have been previously afflicted with the condition. This can sometimes occur up to a year after the appearance of the original case. It’s believed that children who had the disease still carry it even after all of its symptoms have passed.

Acrodermatitis is most common in the spring and summer, typically lasting for four to eight weeks. It usually resolves without needing treatment or causing complications.

What Are the Symptoms of Acrodermatitis?

Over the course of three to four days, red spots will develop on your child’s skin. These spots can develop anywhere on the body, but they’re most commonly seen on the arms, thighs, and buttocks. In most cases, the spots gradually move upward toward the face. As the condition progresses, the red spots may begin to appear purple. This often occurs once the capillaries, or small blood vessels, start to leak blood into the affected areas. These spots will eventually develop into itchy blisters filled with fluid.

Your child may also experience swelling and tenderness in the abdomen and lymph nodes. These symptoms can last anywhere between two and three months.

A copper-colored patch of skin can also be a sign of acrodermatitis. The patch will likely be flat and feel firm to the touch. If hepatitis B is the underlying cause of acrodermatitis, there may be a yellow tint to your child’s skin and eyes. This is a symptom of jaundice. Jaundice will usually appear within 20 days after the onset of symptoms.

What Causes Acrodermatitis?

While the overall incidence of childhood acrodermatitis is unknown, it’s considered a relatively mild condition. However, several acrodermatitis epidemics have been reported over the years. Experts believe these epidemics were caused by viral infections, which can trigger acrodermatitis in children. In the United States, the virus most frequently associated with childhood acrodermatitis is the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV). This is a member of the herpes virus family and one of the most common viruses to affect people around the world. It’s spread through bodily fluids, particularly saliva.

Though EBV is a common cause of acrodermatitis in children, several other types of infections can also lead to the development of the condition, including:

  • HIV
  • hepatitis A, B, and C
  • cytomegalovirus, which is a common virus that usually doesn’t cause symptoms
  • enterovirus, which is a common virus that can cause cold-like symptoms and a severe respiratory infection
  • rotavirus, which is a common virus that causes diarrhea in infants
  • rubella, which is a viral infection that causes a rash
  • coxsackie virus, which is a mild viral infection that causes mouth sores and rashes in young children
  • parainfluenza viruses, which is a group of viruses that cause respiratory illnesses in infants and young children
  • respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is a common virus that causes mild, cold-like symptoms in older children and adults but can be harmful to infants and young children

In very rare cases, vaccines for certain viral diseases may cause acrodermatitis, including:

  • poliovirus
  • hepatitis A
  • diphtheria
  • small pox
  • chicken pox
  • pertussis
  • influenza

How Is Acrodermatitis Diagnosed?

Your child’s doctor may be able to diagnose acrodermatitis simply by looking at your child’s skin and asking about their symptoms. They may also run some tests to help reach a diagnosis. Some of these tests include:

  • a blood or urine test to assess bilirubin levels, which can indicate the presence of hepatitis
  • a blood test to check for abnormal liver enzymes, which can be a sign of hepatitis
  • a blood test to look for the presence of EBV antibodies, which can mean an EBV infection is present
  • a skin biopsy, or the removal of a small sample of skin, to check for other skin conditions that may present as a rash, such as ringworm or eczema
  • a blood test to determine zinc levels and to rule out genetic acrodermatitis enteropathica, which is a rare form of acrodermatitis

How Is Acrodermatitis Treated?

Acrodermatitis itself doesn’t require treatment, and the condition usually goes away on its own without causing any complications. However, the doctor will seek out the underlying cause and focus any treatment on eradicating that particular condition.

The symptoms of acrodermatitis typically subside about four to eight weeks after they start. However, they may last as long as four months. In the meantime, hydrocortisone creams can be used to relieve itching. Antihistamines may also be prescribed if your child has allergies.

If hepatitis B is found to be the cause of acrodermatitis, it can take anywhere between six months to a year for their liver to recover. It’s unlikely that they’ll get acrodermatitis again.

Contact your child’s doctor right away if your child shows any of the symptoms of acrodermatitis. It’s important that the cause of your child’s condition be treated as soon as possible. Once they receive treatment, the symptoms will subside and your child can recover without experiencing any complications or long-term effects.

How Can Acrodermatitis Be Prevented?

Since acrodermatitis appears to be caused by viruses, the only way to prevent it is to avoid getting a viral infection. Make sure your child washes their hands regularly and avoids contact with anyone who is sick. If your child starts to display symptoms of the illness, take them to the doctor for treatment as soon as possible. 

Content licensed from:

Written by: Carmella Wint, Matthew Solan, and Erica Cirino
Medically reviewed on: Mar 01, 2016: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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