Fungal skin infections may be missed or misdiagnosed by many dermatologists, according to the results of a survey published online in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

For the interactive survey, conducted during a session on fungal infections at the 2016 Orlando Dermatology Aesthetic and Clinical Conference, board-certified dermatologists viewed 13 clinical images (which included other conditions such as secondary syphilis and pityriasis rosea) and were asked via an audience response system whether or not they thought the case was a fungal skin infection. In only 1 of the 13 cases presented did 90% of the dermatologists correctly categorize the case as either a dermatomycosis or not, reported Ramsin Joseph Yadgar of George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and colleagues.

Although most cases (8 of 13) “were appropriately categorized by more than 50% of the audience, this percentage decreased as accuracy of categorization increased,” they wrote. “For example, in only 4 of the 13 cases did audience members accurately categorize the cases with more than 75% accuracy,” they said ( J Am Acad Dermatol. 2016 Nov 11. pii: S0190-9622[16]30883-0. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2016.09.041 ).

One of the authors, Adam Friedman, MD , was not surprised by the results.

“Dermatology is full of doppelgangers,” Dr. Friedman, director of the residency program and of translational research in the department of dermatology at George Washington University, said in an interview. 

“While we [dermatologists] pride ourselves on our visual prowess, there are many skin diseases which do not follow the textbook and can be quite protean in their presentations,” he said.

The variability in presentation makes diagnosing fungal infections especially challenging, he noted. “Fungal infections of the skin can have many clinical flavors and can infect skin, hair and nails. Also, inappropriate treatment can obscure the appearance of the infection, and the fact that there are multiple other conditions that can look like these [fungal] infections makes proper identification difficult.”

Although the results were limited by several factors including possible selection bias, lack of measurable response rate, and small sample size, the findings highlight how easy it can be to miss a diagnosis of fungal infection, “which can result in inappropriate therapy, worsening of symptoms, and even additional skin and soft-tissue infections,” the researchers wrote.

“Keep an open mind and cast a wider differential,” to help catch fungal infections, and use all the dermatologic tools, including slide preps, cultures, and biopsies, Dr. Friedman said. Better diagnostic tools and improved training for clinicians outside of dermatology also could reduce the misdiagnosis of fungal infections, he added. “Many of these patients are misdiagnosed in the emergency department, urgent care, or primary care settings,” and delayed treatment increases associated morbidity, he said.

Mr. Yadgar, Dr. Friedman, and another coauthor, Neal Bhatia, MD, of Therapeutics Clinical Research, San Diego, Calif., had no financial conflicts to disclose. There was no funding source.