Dermatologic Manifestations of Staphylococcal Scalded Skin Syndrome Treatment & Management

Updated: Apr 25, 2017
  • Author: Elizabeth J Usedom, MD, MS; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
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Medical Care

Direct the therapy for staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) at eradication of the staphylococcal focus of infection, which generally requires intravenous (IV), penicillinase-resistant, antistaphylococcal antibiotics. The empiric choice of antibiotics should include a penicillinase-resistant penicillin, first- or second-generation cephalosporin, and clindamycin. Susceptibility testing should direct changes in antibiotics as soon as results are available.

Oral antibiotic therapy can be substituted within several days or sooner, but initial IV antibiotics should be started in all patients. Corticosteroids should be avoided in SSSS treatment. Antibiotics, supportive care, and appropriate attention to fluid and electrolyte management for the disrupted epidermal barrier function usually ensure rapid recovery. Moist, denuded areas should be lubricated with a bland emollient to decrease pruritus and tenderness. Skin-substitute therapy with synthetic wound coverings has been described in a study with seven infants with SSSS and may be considered if extensive skin involvement is present. [36] Pain management should be considered throughout the disease process. Affected areas should be gently cleansed to avoid secondary infection. Desquamated skin should be left in place as a natural barrier. Lastly, patients should be placed in contact isolation.

Exchange transfusion has been shown to be beneficial in a preterm infant with severe SSSS with sepsis and hyperbilirubinemia, by reducing the bacterial load and exfoliative toxins in the blood. [37]

Plasma exchange was also shown to be effective in a 68-year-old man with sepsis, infective endocarditis, and disseminated intravascular coagulation. [38] In another case report of SSSS in a premature neonate, a single dose of intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) was administered at 1 g/kg dose, with clinical improvement occurring within a few days. The presence of antiexfoliative toxin antibodies in commercial IVIG preparations has been reported previously.

Recognizing the potential for epidemic scalded skin syndrome in neonatal care units is important. [39]  Identification of health care workers colonized or infected with toxigenic S aureus is an integral part of managing the problem. Receiving more than one early umbilical care procedure by the same ancillary nurse was the only risk factor identified in a nosocomial outbreak in a maternity unit in France. The ancillary nurse had chronic dermatitis on her hands that favored S aureus carriage. [40] Control measures include strict enforcement of chlorhexidine hand washing, barrier nursing protocols, administration of an oral antibiotic therapy for workers who are infected, and application of mupirocin ointment for eradication of persistent nasal carriage.

Further inpatient care

Developments in the understanding of the exfoliative toxins of SSSS should lead to new and improved diagnostic and therapeutic strategies, including the use of specific antitoxins to prevent exfoliation. [41]

Infusing anti-ET antibodies into mice was shown to halt progression of exfoliation in a study performed more than 2 decades ago, but this has never been applied to humans.

A recent surge has occurred in reports of MRSA strains causing SSSS, often with a fatal outcome. Additionally, a multiple-drug resistance gene has been identified on plasmids carrying the ET-B gene. These cases emphasize the need to develop alternative treatment strategies before multiple antibiotic resistance becomes a problem.

Animal model studies have demonstrated that subinhibitory concentrations of antibiotics such as clindamycin can significantly inhibit toxin production by methicillin-sensitive and methicillin-resistant staphylococcal strains, and anti-inflammatory agents such as pentoxifylline can further inhibit activation of the body's inflammatory response to these toxins. Currently, little clinical evidence supports their routine use in the management of SSSS.

Prevention of progression of SSSS by molluscum contagiosum has been observed and indicates possible interference by a viral anticytokine molecule, such as interleukin 18–binding protein. The development of drugs based on inflammatory cytokines, including interleukin 18, may be invaluable for halting the progression of severe cases. [42]



Children with severe staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) (>50% body surface area) may need to be transferred to a tertiary pediatric burn unit for multidisciplinary care in a critical care environment.

A dermatologist is often consulted to provide management guidance and direct wound care.

Fluid overload and hyponatremia are common complications of SSSS. This is not surprising because hyponatremia is common in severe infections and inappropriate vasopressin secretion occurs in patients with burns. Rapid fluid resuscitation also contributes to this complication and should be avoided. [43]

For treatment of toxemia in children, fresh frozen plasma (FFP) at 10 mL/kg may be beneficial, as it contains exotoxin antibodies. If a second dose is required, it should come from a different donor because the possibility exists that the first donor did not have antibodies against the epidermolytic toxins. A 5-day course of pooled human immunoglobulin (0.4 g/kg/d) should also be considered if little or no improvement is noted after two doses of FFP.

Many children require an opioid infusion, such as fentanyl (1-4 mcg/kg/h), for analgesia. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are contraindicated in the acute phase because the damaged skin is already prone to bleeding and renal excretion of the exotoxins makes maximized renal function important. Gabapentin is useful for severe pruritus (100 mg/kg once on day 1, twice a day on day 2, and then three times each day) and may need to be continued for a few months.



Enteral nutrition must be commenced if oral intake is not possible. This may be achieved with a nasogastric tube, but a nasojejunal tube is preferable because it avoids the need to discontinue feeds prior to anesthesia. Nasojejunal (or nasogastric) tubes are likely to require suturing into place to avoid epidermal damage from adhesives.



Physiotherapy is important to encourage mobilization in general, and specifically of the affected limbs. Because staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome tends to affect the flexures most severely, children often limit flexion of the limbs owing to discomfort, and physiotherapy is very helpful in preventing this. Involvement of play therapists also helps encourage gentle mobilization and prevents boredom.



Investigate the possibility of a staphylococcal carrier in the vicinity. Typical measures that reduce infection rates in hospitals should be take,n including regular hand washing, cleansing stethoscopes or other devices between each patient interaction, and ensuring proper cleansing of linens and clothing.

Nasal bacterial carriage or colonization under fingernails can be minimized with antibiotic creams or petroleum jelly several times daily, 1 week per month.