Half of Lupus Rashes Harbor High Levels of Staph Bacteria image

Fifty percent of skin rashes in patients with lupus contain an abnormally high presence of Staphylococcus aureus bacteria, according to a study in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology.

In addition, researchers found that interferon increases the stickiness of staph aureus to their skin.

 “Because our previous work has shown the importance of interferons for sensitivity to sunlight and inflammation in lupus, we then wanted to study whether the interferons and staph were linked,” says J. Michelle Kahlenberg, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of rheumatology at Michigan Medicine and senior author of the paper. Dr. Kahlenberg had already done previous studies into interferons of the skin of patients with lupus.

Dr. Kahlenberg notes that while skin rashes are a common side effect of lupus, she and her team were surprised by the abnormally high presence of staph colonization on the rashes.

“Using a University of Michigan lupus cohort, we found that patients with lupus had staph colonization on their skin at a rate higher than that reported in healthy adults – 40 percent compared to 30 percent,” Dr. Kahlenberg says. “And when the patients with lupus had active skin rashes or lesions, that rate increased to 50 percent.” Staph bacteria is a leading cause of infection in patients with lupus.

“Others have shown it may be associated with disease flares and development of lupus nephritis, or inflammation of the kidney in patients with lupus,” Dr. Kahlenberg says.

She is currently enrolling patients in a clinical trial that is testing whether topical antibiotics can decrease inflammation and rashes in the skin of patients with lupus.

“This is important because if true, the addition of topical antibiotics may be a simple way to improve treatment response in lupus skin and reduce the ability for those rashes to be colonized by staph,” Dr. Kahlenberg says.

Photo Credit: Michigan Medicine