Dermatitis during Spaceflight Associated with HSV-1 Reactivation

Satish K. Mehta, Moriah L. Szpara, Bridgette V. Rooney, Douglass M. Diak, Mackenzie M. Shipley, Daniel W. Renner, Stephanie S. Krieger, Mayra A. Nelman-Gonzalez, Sara R. Zwart, Scott M. Smith, Brian E. Crucian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Human alpha herpesviruses herpes simplex virus (HSV-1) and varicella zoster virus (VZV) establish latency in various cranial nerve ganglia and often reactivate in response to stress-associated immune system dysregulation. Reactivation of Epstein Barr virus (EBV), VZV, HSV-1, and cytomegalovirus (CMV) is typically asymptomatic during spaceflight, though live/infectious virus has been recovered and the shedding rate increases with mission duration. The risk of clinical disease, therefore, may increase for astronauts assigned to extended missions (>180 days). Here, we report, for the first time, a case of HSV-1 skin rash (dermatitis) occurring during long-duration spaceflight. The astronaut reported persistent dermatitis during flight, which was treated onboard with oral antihistamines and topical/oral steroids. No HSV-1 DNA was detected in 6-month pre-mission saliva samples, but on flight day 82, a saliva and rash swab both yielded 4.8 copies/ng DNA and 5.3 × 104 copies/ng DNA, respectively. Post-mission saliva samples continued to have a high infectious HSV-1 load (1.67 × 107 copies/ng DNA). HSV-1 from both rash and saliva samples had 99.9% genotype homology. Additional physiological monitoring, including stress biomarkers (cortisol, dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), and salivary amylase), immune markers (adaptive regulatory and inflammatory plasma cytokines), and biochemical profile markers, including vitamin/mineral status and bone metabolism, are also presented for this case. These data highlight an atypical presentation of HSV-1 during spaceflight and underscore the importance of viral screening during clinical evaluations of in-flight dermatitis to determine viral etiology and guide treatment.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number789
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Infectious Diseases
  • Virology


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