Herpetic Whitlow, an introduction
Herpetic whitlow is a skin infection of the fingers, most commonly found on the tips of the thumb and index finger. Herpetic whitlow is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), often called the herpes virus.
Symptoms of Herpetic Whitlow
At first, the symptoms of herpetic whitlow are burning or tingling sensations in the thumb and fingers. Later symptoms include swelling and redness, itching, one or more blisters that burst and crust, and pain that can be severe. Fever, swelling of the lymph nodes, and feeling generally unwell, are also possible.
According to the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine (USACHPPM) symptoms typically last between 7 and 10 days. It is possible to have symptoms of infection more than once, even without being exposed to the virus again. This is called recurrent infection. Up to half of people infected may get recurrent infections, which are normally less severe and do not last as long as the initial infection.
an Infected Herpetic Whitlow Finger
Causes of Herpetic Whitlow
You can get herpetic whitlow from skin-to-skin contact with another person’s herpes blisters or cold sores, or from contact with your own herpes blisters or cold sores. The virus enters the finger through a break in the skin, such as a cut or torn cuticle. Herpetic whitlow is common among health care workers who regularly come into contact with the virus, and in children who have the virus and suck their fingers or thumb.
To Diagnose Herpetic Whitlow
A health care provider will be able to diagnose herpetic whitlow by examining the affected fingers and asking about symptoms, any past infections that were similar, or past infections of the mouth, lips, or around the genitals.
Treatment of Herpetic Whitlow
Symptoms of herpetic whitlow typically clear up by themselves. A health care provider may prescribe medications, such as acyclovir, to relieve symptoms. This helps the infection clear more quickly, and prevents recurrent infection. Common pain killers, such as ibuprofen, can be used to manage any pain or discomfort. Consult a health care provider prior to taking any medications.
Prevention of Herpetic Whitlow
There are several ways to decrease the risk of getting herpetic whitlow:
• Wash hands often with soap and water
• Do not hold hands with or touch the hands of others who have active symptoms
• Do not share towels, washcloths, or other toiletry items with others
• Health care providers should use gloves and observe universal fluid precautions
There are several ways to decrease the risk of spreading herpetic whitlow further or to others:
• Do not touch the infected area
• Cover the infected area with plaster or bandages
• Avoid touching other body parts (for example, your eyes, nose, and mouth) with infected fingers
• Wear glasses instead of contact lenses to avoid transmitting the virus to your eyes
• Health care providers should use gloves, observe universal fluid precautions and limit contact with patients or patient environments until blisters on the fingers heal
Taking proper precautions and using the related treatment discussed above, we can safeguard ourselves and our families form the contagious disease of Herpetic Whitlow.
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