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A prospective clinical and immunologic analysis of patients with serum sickness.

We prospectively evaluated the clinical and immunologic features of serum sickness in 12 patients with bone-marrow failure treated for 10 days with intravenous infusions of horse antithymocyte globulin. Eleven of the 12 patients had signs and symptoms of serum sickness 8 to 13 days after beginning therapy with antithymocyte globulin. Eleven patients (including 10 of 11 with signs and symptoms of serum sickness) acquired circulating immune complexes, with peak levels occurring at 10 to 12 days. Serum C4 and C3 levels fell precipitously, with nadirs on the 10th day. Plasma levels of C3a anaphylatoxin were elevated in the four patients in whom it was measured. Eight of the 11 patients with signs and symptoms of serum sickness had a characteristic serpiginous erythematous and purpuric eruption on the hands and feet at the junction of palmar and plantar skin. Direct immunofluorescence of skin lesions revealed immune deposits (IgM, IgE, IgA, or C3) in the blood vessels of three of five patients. This study documents the immunopathology of serum sickness in human beings and describes a cutaneous marker for the disease.

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