Herpetic Whitlow

Herpetic Whitlow

herpetic whitlow
herpetic whitlow

What is Herpetic Whitlow?

This condition will normally develop on your fingers but in rare cases it can develop on your toes and is a type of viral infection. Herpetic Whitlow is also known by other names that include:

  • Digital Herpetic Simplex
  • Finger Herpes
  • Hand Herpes

The people commonly affected by this viral infection are children but it can also affect health care workers who work in the dental or medical field who are exposed to any genital or oral secretions of a person who has Herpetic Whitlow. Herpetic Whitlow will usually go through two cycles, the active and remission cycle. In the active cycle it can last from two to twenty-one days. When a person goes through the remission cycle this is when the sores disappear completely. Normally a person only gets Herpetic Whitlow once in their lifetime. Having a recurrence of this viral infection is rare but it can happen due to certain triggers that include:

  • Trauma
  • Sun exposure
  • Stress
  • Hormonal changes
  • Surgery
  • Illness or fever

Having Herpetic Whitlow can limit the things that you can do because it is on your fingers, very contagious, and is easily transferred to other people so it is very important to get treatment immediately.

Herpetic Whitlow Symptoms

For a person infected with Herpetic Whitlow, symptoms may start to develop within two to twenty days after a person has been exposed to this viral infection. Usually the symptoms will first appear on the index finger or thumb. Sometimes it will happen in the fingernail area.

  • A person will experience tingling and burning sensations in the finger or thumb as the first symptom.
  • Pain that is intense because of the lesions
  • Tiny blisters will start to appear on the infected finger in clusters and will usually form a red a base. Within a couple of weeks these blisters will usually heal on their own.
  • Swelling in the area of the finger or thumb that is affected.
  • Tenderness in the infected area

There are also other symptoms that some people may experience that include:

  • Swollen lymph nodes found under the arm or in the elbow.
  • Fever
  • Red streaks that come from the infected area

Herpetic Whitlow Causes

The causes of Herpetic Whitlow will vary according to who has the infection. Basically a person gets Herpetic Whitlow from skin to skin contact with a person who already has herpes, whether it is Herpetic Whitlow or another form of herpes, generally genital herpes. It can be caused by Herpes Simplex Virus, Type 1 or Type 2. Type 1 is usually found around the lips, mouth, face, or nose. Type 2 is usually found around the buttocks or genital area. Both of these types of Herpes Simplex Virus are extremely contagious and spreads easily too.

Main Cause

The main cause of Herpetic Whitlow is because of the presence in the body of the chickenpox virus. After someone has the chicken pox there is a possibility of the virus remaining in the body but in a dormant condition. If the virus becomes active it becomes a herpes infection.


Many times children with Herpetic Whitlow also have the symptoms of Mouth Herpes. They develop Herpetic Whitlow because they are sucking their toes or fingers resulting in the virus of the lips or mouth entering the finger, or toes in rare cases, through any breaks or cuts in their fingers or toes. This process of developing Herpetic Whitlow is known as Auto Inoculation,


Usually within a couple of weeks the symptoms clear up by themselves but getting treatment will help the healing process. You should make sure that if you do have a painful sore on any fingers that does not go away or seems to be getting worse that you seek medical attention. Some of the treatments that are used include:

  • Antiviral medications – these will help to prevent the spread of this viral infection, help to reduce the recurrence of the infection, and get relief from the symptoms. They are applied topically or taken orally. You will usually have to take these types of medications for seven to fourteen days.
  • Pain medication – to help with the intense pain. Usually this is over the counter medication such as Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen
  • Cold compresses – also used to help with the pain
  • Baking soda paste – mix baking soda with water and apply to the infected area
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap after touching the infected area.
  • Keep the infected area dry
  • Cold tea bags – using these will help to reduce the number of outbreaks and help to slow down or stop the viral activity.

Usually with Herpetic Whitlow there are no complications but immunocompromised people such as ones with HIV could develop serious complications like pneumonia because they have Herpetic Whitlow. Any person who has a weakened immune system should seek immediate medical help as soon as the symptoms appear.

Is Herpetic Whitlow Contagious?

The answer is yes, it is an infectious disease and very contagious and can spread very easily. If a person who is infected with Herpetic Whitlow they should make sure they are preventing the viral infection from spreading to another person as well as spreading to other parts of their body. In addition, health care workers who might be exposed to this viral infection must also take precautions. It is also possible to transmit this virus even if there are no active lesions on the infected person but it is very unusual for a person who has Herpetic Whitlow not to have lesions.

Infectious Person

  • Make sure that you are wearing a bandage over the lesions
  • Avoid picking at the sores and scratching the area
  • Avoid any type of skin to skin contact with anyone else
  • Do not share any of their personal items with anyone else.
  • Wash the clothes and bed linens of the infected person separately from other member’s of the family.
  • Make sure that you do not pop any of the blisters because that will only make it worse.

Health Care Workers

  • Wear protective gloves

Herpetic Whitlow Pictures

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