Herpetic whitlow is an infection caused by herpes simplex virus, and is characterized by painful lesions on fingers. Here is a brief overview about this condition.
Herpetic whitlow is a type of viral infection that develops on the fingers, especially the terminal phalanges. In some rare cases, this viral infection may affect the toes too. This condition is otherwise known as digital herpes simplex, finger herpes, or hand herpes.
Herpes simplex virus type 1 is found to be the causative agent in almost 60% of herpetic whitlow cases, and the remaining 40% is caused by herpes simplex virus type 2. It has been observed that health care workers, who are exposed to the oral and genital secretions of those affected with this virus, are more prone to this condition. Children are commonly found to be affected by this condition.
Causes and Symptoms
In case of herpetic whitlow in children, the symptoms are often found in those, who have oral herpes. Such children with oral herpes develop herpetic whitlow, as they suck their thumb or other fingers. The virus from the mouth or lips can enter through any cut or break on the fingers. This process is termed auto inoculation, which may also happen in health workers and dentists, who may come in contact with people affected with this virus. Others are mostly found to be infected through contact with people having genital herpes.
In short, herpetic whitlow can be contracted through skin to skin contact with an affected person; or from an infected body part of the same individual. Contact with the oral and genital secretions of the affected person may also lead to herpetic whitlow. Once a person gets exposed to the virus, symptoms may develop within 2 to 20 days. The person will experience burning and tingling sensation in the finger, along with pain. After some 10 to 12 days, the finger will become red, tender, and inflamed.
Tiny blisters will appear on the affected site. The blisters are usually found in clusters, and form a red base. These blisters heal on their own, within two weeks. Some people may also experience additional symptoms, like fever and swollen lymph nodes under the arm. Above all, the person will experience intense pain due to the lesions. Once the symptoms clear up, the virus will remain inactive. Recurrence of the infection is not that common; but may happen in some cases.
Even though the symptoms clear up by themselves within a few weeks, treatment is provided to speed up the healing process. Antiviral medication is prescribed, so as to get relief from the symptoms; and to prevent the spread of the virus, and recurrence of the infection. Pain killers may also be given to the affected person.
Cold compresses are found to be effective for relief from pain. Though not common, complications may develop in immunocompromised people, like those with HIV/AIDS. It has been noticed that such people develop serious complications, like pneumonia. People with weakened immune systems and other related conditions, must seek medical attention, at the very onset of symptoms.
Herpetic whitlow is an infectious disease, and those who are at risk must prevent it with proper precautionary measures. Those who are already infected, must prevent the condition from spreading. This can be done by wearing bandages over the lesions. They must avoid scratching and picking at the sores. He/she must avoid skin-to-skin contact with others; and should not share personal items. Health workers must exercise caution while dealing with patients, by wearing protective gloves.
Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. Visiting your physician is the safest way to diagnose and treat any health condition.