Background: To date, very few studies on clinical-histopathological correlations of cutaneous disorders associated with COVID-19 have been conducted.
Case presentation: The Case 1 was a 90-year-old man, who tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 from a nasopharyngeal swab. Two days later, he was hospitalized and after eleven days transferred to Intensive Care Unit. A chest CT showed bilateral ground-glass opacities. Just that day, an erythematous maculo-papular rash appeared on trunk, shoulders and neck, becoming purpuric after few days. Histological evaluations revealed a chronic superficial dermatitis with purpuric aspects. The superficial and papillary dermis appeared edematous, with a perivascular lympho-granulocytic infiltrate and erythrocytic extravasation. At intraepithelial level, spongiosis and a granulocyte infiltrate were detected. Arterioles, capillaries and post-capillary venules showed endothelial swelling and appeared ectatic. The patient was treated with hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, lopinavir-ritonavir and tocilizumab. Regrettably, due to severe lung impairment, he died.
The Case 2 was a 85-year-old man, admitted to Intensive Care Unit, where he was intubated. He had tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 from a nasopharyngeal swab two days before. A chest RX showed bilateral atypical pneumonia. After seven days, a cutaneous reddening involving trunk, upper limbs, neck and face developed, configuring a sub-erythroderma. Histological evaluations displayed edema in the papillary and superficial reticular dermis, and a perivascular lymphocytic infiltrate in the superficial dermis. The patient was treated with hydroxychloroquine, azithromycin, lopinavir-ritonavir and tocilizumab. Sub-erythroderma as well as respiratory symptoms gradually improved until healing.
Conclusions: The endothelial swelling detected in the Case 1 could be a morphological expression of SARS-CoV-2-induced endothelial dysfunction. We hypothesize that cutaneous damage could be initiated by endothelial dysfunction, caused by SARS-CoV-2 infection of endothelial cells or induced by immune system activation. The disruption of endothelial integrity could enhance microvascular permeability, extravasation of inflammatory cells and cytokines, with cutaneous injury. The Case 2 developed a sub-erythroderma associated with COVID-19, and a non-specific chronic dermatitis was detected at histological level. We speculate that a purpuric rash could represent the cutaneous sign of a more severe coagulopathy, as highlighted histologically by vascular abnormalities, while a sub-erythroderma could be expression of viral hematogenous spreading, inducing a non-specific chronic dermatitis.