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While it's true that atopic dermatitis itself may have "no serious impact on health," sufferers are more vulnerable to other diseases. An example is cowpox, a virus akin to smallpox that is found normally in cows, cats, rodents, and other animals. Humans can be infected with cowpox, but it usually doesn't require any treatment. A few years ago, however, there was a case of a small boy who suffered from atopic dermatitis who contracted cowpox from his pet cat, and the infection killed him. Since the smallpox vaccine is made from cowpox, people who suffer from atopic dermatitis cannot use the vaccine. In fact, they can't even be around other people who have recently been vaccinated.

A. dermatitis (or susceptibilty to it) appears to be transmitted genetically. The condition is especially common in people of Scandanavian descent. It also appears to affect men more than women. Infants who have a. dermatitis are more susceptible to skin infections such as impetigo and eczema. They have to wear all-cotton clothing, which must be washed in a non-irritating detergent such as Dreft, and they can't be bathed with soap.