50th Anniversary

ID dermatology: Advancements, but new challenges, over 50 years


When Stephen Tyring, MD, PhD, an infectious disease dermatologist, started his career in the early 1980s, he said “we were diagnosing Kaposi’s sarcoma right and left. We would see a new case every day or two.”

Dr. Stephen Tyring, University of Texas Health Science Center

Dr. Stephen Tyring

It was the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and dermatologists were at the forefront because HIV/AIDS often presented with skin manifestations. Dr. Tyring, clinical professor in the departments of dermatology, microbiology & molecular genetics and internal medicine at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston, and his colleagues referred Kaposi’s patients for chemotherapy and radiation, but the outlook was often grim, especially if lesions developed in the lungs.

Dermatologist don’t see much Kaposi’s anymore because of highly effective treatments for HIV. It highlights one of the major advances in infectious disease (ID) dermatology since Dermatology News published its first issue under the name Skin & Allergy News in January 1970: improved management of viral disease.

Members of the original editorial advisory board saw it coming. In a feature in which board members provided their prediction for the 1970s that appeared in the first issue, New York dermatologist Norman Orentreich, MD, counted the “probable introduction of virucidal agents” as one of the “significant advances or changes that I foresee in the next 10 years.” J. Lamar Callaway, MD, professor of dermatology at Duke University, Durham, N.C., predicted that “the next 10 years should develop effective anti-viral agents for warts, herpes simplex, and herpes zoster.”

Infectious disease in Dermatology News: 50 years of headlines
They weren’t far off in their timing.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dermatology News, we are looking back at how the field has changed since that first issue. The focus this month is infectious disease. There’s a lot to be grateful for but there are also challenges like antibiotic resistance that weren’t on the radar screens of Dr. Orentreich, Dr. Callaway, and their peers in 1970.

All in all, “the only thing I wish we did the old way is sit at the bedside and talk to patients more. We rely so much on technology now that we sometimes lose the art of medicine, which is comforting to the patient,” said Theodore Rosen, MD, an ID dermatologist and professor of dermatology at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, who’s been in practice for 42 years.

“A lot of advancements against herpes viruses”

One of the biggest wins for ID dermatology over the last 5 decades has been the management of herpes, both herpes simplex virus 1 and 2, as well as herpes zoster virus. It started with the approval of acyclovir in 1981. Before then, “we had no direct therapy for genital herpes, herpes zoster, or disseminated herpes in immunosuppressed or cancer patients,” Dr. Rosen said.

Dr. Theodore Rosen

Dr. Theodore Rosen

“I can remember doing an interview with Good Morning America when I gave the first IV dose of acyclovir in the city of Houston for really bad disseminated herpes” in an HIV patient, he said, and it worked.

Two derivatives, valacyclovir and famciclovir, became available in the mid-1990s, so today “we have three drugs and some others at the periphery that are all highly effective not only” against herpes, but also for preventing outbreaks; valacyclovir can even prevent asymptomatic shedding, therefore possibly preventing new infections. “That’s a concept we didn’t even have 40 years ago,” Dr. Rosen said.

Dr. Carrie Kovarik, associate professor, University of Pennsylvania

Dr. Carrie Kovarik

Cidofovir has also made a difference. The IV formulation was approved for AIDS-associated cytomegalovirus retinitis in 1996 but discontinued a few years later amid concerns of severe renal toxicity. It’s found a new home in dermatology since then, explained ID dermatologist Carrie Kovarik, MD, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Dermatologists see acyclovir-resistant herpes “heaped up on the genitals in HIV patients,” and there weren’t many options in the past. A few years ago, “we [tried] injecting cidofovir directly into the skin lesions, and it’s been remarkably successful. It is a good way to treat these lesions” if dermatologists can get it compounded, she said.

Shingles vaccines, first the live attenuated zoster vaccine (Zostavax) approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2006 and the more effective recombinant zoster vaccine (Shingrix) approved in 2017, have also had a significant impact.

Dr. Rosen remembers what it was like when he first started practicing over 40 years ago. Not uncommonly, “we saw horrible cases of shingles,” including one in his uncle, who was left with permanent hand pain long after the rash subsided.

Today, “I see much less shingles, and when I do see it, it’s in a much-attenuated form. [Shingrix], even if it doesn’t prevent the disease, often prevents postherpetic neuralgia,” he said.

Also, with pediatric vaccinations against chicken pox, “we’re probably going to see a whole new generation without shingles, which is huge. We’ve made a lot of advancements against herpes viruses,” Dr. Kovarik said.


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