Updated 04 July 2014

Link between staph infections and eczema

Researchers who identified a link between staph infections and eczema-like skin rashes say their findings could improve understanding of eczema.


Researchers who identified a link between staph infections and eczema-like skin rashes say their findings could improve understanding of eczema and help lead to better treatments for the itchy skin condition.

Experiments in mice showed that a toxin produced by Staphylococcus aureus bacteria caused immune system cells in the skin to react in a way that produced eczema-like rashes.

The release of what is called "delta toxin" by staph bacteria caused immune-related cells in the skin to release tiny granules that spur inflammation. This did not occur, however, when skin was exposed to staph strains that did not have the gene for delta toxin, the investigators found.

Specific mechanism

The study was published in the journal Nature.

The link between this specific staph toxin and skin rashes suggests a very specific mechanism, but it's not enough to suggest that delta toxin from staph bacteria by itself causes eczema. It's likely that genetics also play a role, said study senior author Dr Gabriel Nunez, a professor of academic pathology at the University of Michigan.

The discovery was made in mice, and it's too soon to know if the same effect occurs in people with eczema. The researchers did, however, find significant levels of staph delta toxin in skin samples taken from people with eczema.

"We know that 90% of patients with atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, have staph bacteria detectable on their skin," Nunez said in a university news release. "But until now, it has not been suspected that the contribution was primary. ...Now we have evidence that there may indeed be a direct link."

About 15% to 30% of children and 5% of adults have eczema.

More information

The American Academy of Dermatology has more about eczema.

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Skin expert

Dr Suretha Kannenberg holds a degree in Medicine and a Masters in Dermatology from the University of Stellenbosch. She is employed as a consultant dermatologist by Stellenbosch University and Tygerberg Academic Hospital, where she is involved in clinical duties and the training of medical students and dermatology residents. Her areas of interest and research include vitiligo, eczema and acne. She also performs limited private practice work in the Northern suburbs of Cape Town in general and cosmetic dermatology.

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