- Author: Craig G Burkhart, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD more...
Tinea versicolor is a common, benign, superficial cutaneous fungal infection usually characterized by hypopigmented or hyperpigmented macules and patches on the chest and the back. In patients with a predisposition, tinea versicolor may chronically recur. The fungal infection is localized to the stratum corneum. Note the image below.
Tinea versicolor is caused by the dimorphic, lipophilic organisms in the genus Malassezia, formerly known as Pityrosporum. Eleven species are recognized within this classification of yeasts, of which Malassezia globosa and Malassezia furfur are the predominant species isolated in tinea versicolor.[1, 2, 3, 4, 5] Malassezia is extremely difficult to propagate in laboratory culture and is culturable only in media enriched with C12- to C14-sized fatty acids. Malassezia is naturally found on the skin surfaces of many animals, including humans. Indeed, it can be isolated in 18% of infants and 90-100% of adults.
The organism can be found on healthy skin and on skin regions demonstrating cutaneous disease. In patients with clinical disease, the organism is found in both the yeast (spore) stage and the filamentous (hyphal) form. Factors that lead to the conversion of the saprophytic yeast to the parasitic, mycelial morphologic form include a genetic predisposition; warm, humid environments; immunosuppression; malnutrition; and Cushing disease. Human peptide cathelicidin LL-37 plays a role in skin defense against this organism.
Even though Malassezia is a component of the normal flora, it can also be an opportunistic pathogen. The organism is considered to be a factor in other cutaneous diseases, including Pityrosporum folliculitis, confluent and reticulate papillomatosis, seborrheic dermatitis, and some forms of atopic dermatitis. Malassezia species have also been shown to be a pulmonary pathogen in patients with immunosuppression due to stem cell transplantation.
Tinea versicolor occurs more frequently in areas with higher temperatures and higher relative humidities. The national prevalence of this condition is 2-8% of the population. The exact incidence in the United States is difficult to assess because many individuals who are affected may not seek medical attention.
Tinea versicolor occurs worldwide, with prevalences reported to be as high as 50% in the humid, hot environment of Western Samoa and as low as 1.1% in the colder temperatures of Sweden.
Although the alteration in skin pigmentation is more apparent in darker-skinned individuals, the incidence of tinea versicolor appears to be the same in all races.
Several studies have addressed the frequency of tinea versicolor based on sex, and no dominance of either sex is apparent.
In the United States, tinea versicolor is most common in persons aged 15-24 years, when the sebaceous glands are more active. The occurrence of tinea versicolor before puberty or after age 65 years is uncommon. In more tropical countries, age frequency varies; most cases involve people aged 10-19 years who live in warmer, humid countries, such as Liberia and India.
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