Herpetic whitlow also known as whitlow is a viral infection which is extremely painful.
Caused by the herpes simplex virus, it typically affects the terminal phalanx. Herpetic whitlow can affect one or more fingers. Whitlow can be caused by both type 1 and type 2 herpes simplex virus.
The affected finger has extreme pain, redness swelling, and itching. It may also develop clear vesicular blisters. In serious cases, the patient may develop fever with rigor, malaise and enlarged lymph nodes. Herpes whitlow usually resolves in 2 to 5 weeks. HSV-1 is commonly contracted during childhood whereas HSV-2 is mostly sexually transmitted and affects the adult population on contact. Children usually present with cold sores and blisters on the fingers, lips, mouth and face. HSV-2 infection usually presents with soreness in the genitalia.
Those working in the health care profession are more at risk at being infected. Gloves should be used to avoid direct contact with the infected body fluid. HIV infected persons with a low immune level are easy targets and can get easily infected. You can control the risk of infection by avoiding direct contact with open lesions. Practicing safe sex, using condoms is another preventive measure. Children should be prohibited from chewing fingers or thumbs or biting nails to avoid the spread of the virus.
Herpetic whitlow is a self limiting disease that has a specific pattern and phase of infection. On viral inoculation via torn cuticle or broken skin due to exposure to the infected body fluid, the virus invades the tissues. Clinical symptoms are thrown or expressed within 2 to 20 days of the viral invasion. A small number of people have fever and malaise as prodromal symptoms, but the most common symptoms are intense pain and burning on the infected finger or phalanx. This is followed by the formation of a group of vesicles that contain clear fluid. It is during this phase that herpetic whitlow is extremely contagious, and contact with the fluid easily spreads the virus. The symptoms resolve within 10 to 14 days. Herpetic whitlow, like other herpes infections, shows incidences of recurrence which are usually milder than the primary infection.
There is no affinity to any gender and both men and women are equally susceptible to the virus. Complications of herpetic whitlow are delayed resolution and bacterial super infection. Whitlow is a self resolving infection. Anti-viral drugs help in resolving or healing herpetic whitlow faster, and also help reducing the intensity of pain and other associated symptoms.
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