Pediatric Erythema Multiforme in the Emergency Department: More Than “Just a Rash”

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Erythema multiforme (EM) is characterized by symmetrical acrally distributed target lesions; however, other conditions can mimic the clinical features of EM. Although it is typically self-limiting, alternative diagnoses may be life-threatening and require immediate identification and treatment. This study aimed to investigate the clinical spectrum and accuracy of diagnosis of pediatric EM in the emergency department (ED).


A retrospective, descriptive study of all pediatric patients with an ED information system diagnosis of EM at 2 EDs in Southeast Queensland between January 2010 and July 2013. Cases were evaluated using previously established EM classification criteria.


Seventy patients (34 males and 36 females) with a diagnosis of EM were identified. From 57 cases where a diagnosis could be established, 9 cases fulfilled the classification criteria for EM. No patients had mucosal involvement, and therefore, all 9 cases were classified as EM minor, with the majority (89%) attributed to viral infection. Of the 48 cases that did not fit the criteria, the most common condition misdiagnosed as EM was urticaria multiforme (n = 20).


In the ED setting, EM in children is frequently misdiagnosed. Greater awareness of diagnostic factors for EM may improve diagnostic accuracy. Teledermatology and incentives to include clinical pictures in the (electronic) medical record may be useful adjuncts for patients with suspected EM and other dermatological conditions.

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