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My approach to: The HIV-positive skin biopsy
  1. Wayne Grayson (wayne.grayson{at}
  1. University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa


    Dermatological disorders are a frequent presenting feature of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection and/or the acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS). More than 90% of HIV-infected patients will suffer from one or more skin diseases during the course of their illness. This trend is reflected in the increasing number of skin biopsies from HIV-positive patients in those parts of the world where HIV infection/AIDS is highly prevalent. Histopathologists are, therefore, required to possess a working knowledge of the broad spectrum of cutaneous manifestations of HIV infection. These include the range of dermatoses that are specific to HIV infection, the more common dermatoses occurring with greater frequency (or modified by) HIV infection/AIDS, the spectrum of infectious diseases (often opportunistic) caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa and even arthropods, and neoplastic conditions such as Kaposi’s sarcoma and B-cell non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The risk for adverse skin reactions to certain drugs is also greatly increased. Although the introduction of highly active antiretroviral therapy has resulted in a dramatic decrease in opportunistic infections, several of these drugs may result in adverse reactions in the skin. Skin biopsies play a vital diagnostic role when different diseases present with clinically similar skin lesions. Biopsy material should always be examined carefully to exclude dual pathology. The diagnosis may need to be confirmed with histochemical and immunohistochemical stains, and/or molecular studies. Where indicated, additional biopsies for microbiological culture should always be recommended. The examination of multiple serial sections often proves invaluable. A diagnostic approach is given based on the predominant histological reaction pattern, with an emphasis on clinico-pathological correlation.

    • acquired immune deficiency syndrome
    • human immunodeficiency virus
    • skin

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