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Pediatr Res. 2005 Sep;58(3):613-6.

Erythema toxicum neonatorum is an innate immune response to commensal microbes penetrated into the skin of the newborn infant.

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Department of Woman and Child Health, Neonatal Unit, Karolinska University Hospital in Solna, Stockholm, Sweden.


Erythema toxicum neonatorum is a common rash of unknown etiology affecting healthy newborn infants. In this study, we postulated that the rash reflects a response to microbial colonization of the skin at birth, and that the hair follicle constitutes an "easily opened door" for microbes into the skin of the newborn. We collected microbial cultures from the skin of 69 healthy, 1-d-old infants with and without erythema toxicum to identify the colonizing flora and correlate culture results with clinical findings. We also analyzed biopsies from lesions of erythema toxicum with scanning and transmission electron microscopy in the search for microbes. Finally, each infant's body temperature was measured as a sign of acute phase response. We found that 84% of 1-d-old healthy infants, with and without erythema toxicum were colonized with coagulase-negative staphylococci. In all lesions of erythema toxicum, TEM identified cocci-like bacteria localized in the hair follicle epithelium and into recruited immune cells surrounding the hair follicle; morphology and dimension supported their identification as belonging to the genus Staphylococcus. SEM revealed 10 times more hair structures per skin surface unit in newborns compared with adults. Infants with erythema toxicum also had higher body temperature. In erythema toxicum, commensal microbes gain entry into the skin tissue, most probably through the hair canal. This triggers the local immune system and a systemic acute phase response, including an increase in body temperature. We speculate that early microbial exposure to the newborn may be important for the maturation of the immune system.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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