Herpetic Whitlow Picture

Herpetic Whitlow: Causes, Picture, Symptoms, Treatment

Herpetic Whitlow refers to the infection affecting your fingers. The problem can result in the formation of small blisters in the fleshy area of your finger (around the fingertips). Sores or blisters can trigger pain. It mostly develops due to coming in contact with an infected sore. The condition also known as whitlow finger occurs due to HSV (herpes simplex virus). Two types of HSV (type 1 and type 2) can result in finger infection. It is an extremely contagious condition that can result in discomfort. HSV virus is responsible for causing genital herpes and common cold in people. People working in healthcare professions and who suffer from HSV infection face the risk of the problem. It is essential to recognize the condition promptly and take necessary action to protect yourself. Want to know more about it? Then, read ahead.

What Is Herpetic Whitlow?

Herpetic whitlow refers to the painful finger infection that occurs due to herpes simplex virus. HSV type 1 and HSV type 2 leads to the infection. The problem can appear in adults as well as children. The condition can result in the development of a painful wound on your finger. The wound caused due to HSV infection is known as whitlow on the fingers. In most cases, the infection develops on the fleshy part of your thumb or index finger. But, in some rare cases, it can also occur on your toes.

Herpetic Whitlow

You can get the infection when you contract HSV type 1 and type 2. Type 1 affects your mouth, face, or lips. So, your finger gets affects when it comes in contact with the sores on the specified part. While touching sores in the genital areas caused by HSV type 2 can also lead to the development of sores on the fingers.

Symptoms Of Herpetic Whitlow

The infection caused by the herpes simplex virus can trigger several symptoms in your body. The symptoms are similar to HSV infection occurring on any other parts of the body. So, you need to check the following:


The timing when the symptoms appear is important. If you have HSV infection, then the first signs of the problem can appear within two to twenty days after you get exposed to the virus.


You can experience a burning or tingling sensation in the infected area. You can also experience pain in your finger before the lesion appears.


You can see herpetic whitlow on your finger causing swelling. It can turn the infected area red. The problem can cause the development of blisters. As time passes, it fills with liquid or pus. You can see only one blister or a group of blisters on your finger. The blisters are small in size. But, you can experience pain when you touch them.


The blisters formed on the finger has the risk of rupturing as time passes. So, it can cause the formation of scabs. Once the scabs heal, your infection goes back to its dormant state. When you suffer from finger infection, you can see the following symptoms developing in your body:

  • Fever
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the elbow or armpits region
  • Red marks that surround the site of infection or lead away from it

Some people can experience recurrent infection. The sores causing the infection can appear again after a period of time. In most cases, whitlow appears on the same site. It develops as the primary infection. Some factors can cause the infection to recur. The factors that can lead to the recurrence of HSV infection and subsequent herpetic whitlow are:

  • Recurring or frequent illness
  • Hormonal imbalance
  • Excess stress
  • Excessive sun exposure
  • Physical or emotional trauma
  • Surgery

People who suffer from recurrent infection always develop the same pattern, which resembles the primary infection. The infection can cause tingling, itching or burning sensation before the actual sores appear. The recurrent infection can last for than a week. But, it may not feel as strong as the primary infection. So, you will observe only a few blisters around your finger due to the infection. The recurrent infection causes the development of blisters of small size that are less painful.

Causes Of Herpetic Whitlow

HSV virus is the main cause of whitlow finger. Herpes simplex virus causes cold sores and genital herpes. The same virus can trigger the infection in your finger. So, you can develop the condition when your finger comes in contact with the HSV virus (HSV1 or HSV2). The factors increase your risk of contracting the problem are:

History Of Cold Sores/Genital Herpes

You have more chances of getting the viral infection when you have a history of genital herpes or cold sores. HSV is contagious in nature. So, when you come in contact with the infected sores or blisters in your body, your finger also gets infected. If you HSV, then finger infection can occur as a secondary infection. So, you can experience the problem when you have cut or sore on your finger that comes in contact with HSV through sores or blisters in the genital or facial region. The virus enters your finger through the open cut.

Close Proximity To Infected People

When you come in close contact with people infected by cold sores or genital herpes, the infection can spread. So, parents with children suffering from HSV infection or caretakers looking after patients with viral infection have more chances of getting the finger infection. The sores and blister on the infected person are contagious in nature.

Weak Immune System

People with the weak immune system are prone to viral infection compared to others. Suffering from any diseases or undergoing treatment for health issues can weaken a person’s immune system. Such people are at risk of HSV infections.

Types Of HSV Causing Herpetic Whitlow

Two types of HSV infections can lead to herpetic whitlow. So, you need to maintain caution as the below mentioned HSV types can lead to the issue:

HSV Type 1

HSV Type 1

People working in certain professions like medical field have a high risk of finger infection due to type 1 HSV. HSV 1 infection mostly affects people around the face, lips, nose, and mouth. It is common among men and women of all ages. So, dental and medical professional working on people infected with the HSV 1 can suffer from the problem. It is common in children and young adults.

HSV Type 2

HSV Type 2

HSV type 2 mostly affects people through sexual contact. The infections affect areas around the genitals. So, touching the sores or blisters around the genital region affected by the virus can result in a herpetic whitlow.

Diagnosing Herpetic Whitlow

In the majority of the cases, you can develop sore or blisters that may not cause any problems. The common causes of developing sores on your finger are:

  • Insect bites
  • Friction
  • Injury

Most sores heal on their own with little care and caution. But, if you observe pus inside the sore or blister, then you need to see the doctor. The painful blister is also known as an abscess. The failure to pinpoint the exact cause of developing the pocket of pus indicates you need medical attention. So, make an appointment with your doctor to check the problem accurately. Your doctor can perform the following tests to detect the problem conclusively:

Physical Assessment

In the majority of cases, your doctor can detect viral infections based on the appearance of the sores or lesion on your finger.

Skin Swab Test

The skin swab test refers to the test that helps detect the presence of germs affecting your skin. During the test, your doctor can take the sample of your affected skin using a sterile cotton swab. It is sent to the lab for performing skin culture. So, the test can reveal the presence of HSV.

Blood Test

Your doctor can suggest blood tests to detect the type of the HSV virus causing the problem. So, a sample of your blood is tested in the lab for detecting the presence of the virus and its type.

The tests can also rule out other health conditions with similar symptoms. Therefore, based on the diagnosis, your doctor can suggest medications to alleviate the condition.

Treatment Options Available For Herpetic Whitlow

In the majority of cases, you need no specific treatment for the finger infection. The condition heals by itself with a few weeks. But, you can suffer from pain or discomfort during the period. So, you can reduce the distress associated with the problem by getting some treatment.

Medical Treatment For Herpetic Whitlow

The infection in your finger can trigger pain. So instead of waiting for the infection to go away by itself, you can get treatment to shorten the duration. Getting treatment as soon as you suspect contraction can reduce the severity of the problem.

Take Antivirals

Antiviral medications are effective when you take it within 24 hours of developing the symptoms. It can reduce the risk of spreading the infection to other areas or people. So, as soon as you see the signs of the problem, take antiviral medication to prevent the issue from triggering pain.


In some cases, the blister you develop on the finger due to HSV infection can rupture. It can become infected with bacteria, leading to other complications. So, your doctor can suggest antibiotics. It can help you overcome the bacterial infection caused due to blister rupture.


Antivirals also lower the risk of spreading the infection to other people. If a blister ruptures and becomes infected with bacteria, your doctor can prescribe an antibiotic.

Medication To Relieve Pain

HSV infection in your finger can cause severe pain. The tingling pain can prevent you from performing your job properly. It can also affect your day-to-day activities. So, you can take a pain reliever like acetaminophen or ibuprofen. It reduces pain and fever accompanying the finger infection.

You need to see a doctor get the appropriate medication to ease the discomfort associated with Herpetic whitlow. The medicines can provide you relief. But, you also need to follow some steps at home to aid in the speedy recovery.

Home Care Methods To Treat Herpetic Whitlow

People can speed up their recovery process by following some methods at home. Effective home remedies can prevent the spreading of infection and aids speedy recovery. So, try to follow the steps suggested below:

Cover Infected Area

You need to cover the finger infection to avoid spreading of infection to other parts. So, clean the infected site and cover it with a gauze. Covering the area can also prevent your urge to pop or drain the blisters. The actions can only cause further complications. It can result in the spreading of infection to other parts of your body. Popping or draining the blisters can put you at risk of secondary infections. Therefore, refrain from touching the infected area. Lightly cover the area to prevent such problems.

Maintain Good Hygiene

You have to follow proper hygiene to ensure the infection that does spread. It is specifically a necessity for people working in the medical field who have a high chance of coming in contact with patients affected by whitlow finger. Therefore, it is essential to follow the basic hygiene rules like:

  • Wear gloves while working on patients to protect themselves from infection
  • Wash hands thoroughly with soap or lotion
  • Avoid contact with the suspected lesion to keep the virus from spreading

Apply Cold Compress

You can experience swelling as a part of the finger infection. So, you need to apply cold compress several times a day. It can reduce the swelling and associated discomfort. Never place the ice directly on your skin. Cover the ice cubes in a towel or use over-the-counter ice packs to reduce the discomfort due to the infection.

Switch To Glasses

Many people use contact lens instead of glasses. But, if you suffer from HSV infection in your finger, then try switching to glasses until the infection heals completely. When you wear contacts, the virus can spread to your eyes. It can result in an eye infection. Therefore, try to avoid your finger coming in contact with your eyes.

Complications Due To Herpetic Whitlow

Although the infection can go away on its own, it needs ample care. If you fail to take care of the finger infection, it can cause you severe distress. The complication associated with Herpetic whitlow is:

Spreading Of Infection

The infection is contagious in nature. Therefore, you need to keep the blistered area on your finger covered until it heals properly. Failure to do so can cause infection to spread to other areas in your body. It also increases the risk of infection spreading to other people.

Eye Infection

When you suffer from the finger infection, you must avoid touching the eye. It increases the chance of spreading the infection to your eye. People using contact lens need to avoid using it until the infection goes away. When you clean the infected finger, the chances of infection spreading to other parts of the body are high. So, people affected by the problem need to wear gloves.

Disseminated HSV Infection

In some rare cases, finger infection due to HSV can lead to disseminated HSV infection. It is the problem that occurs when the herpes simplex virus spreads from one site to other areas in your body. The problem can lead to the widespread eruption of vesicles. It also causes outbreak of pustules and erosions. It can affect even the brain or spinal cord leading to a severe complication. You need immediate hospitalization to deal with the problem.

Herpetic Encephalitis

Herpetic Encephalitis

It is important to get treatment for whitlow finger. Without proper healing or unchecked finger, an infection can put you at risk of severe conditions or superinfections. One such problem is Herpetic encephalitis. It is the herpes infection affecting your brain. The rare neurological disorder can result in the inflammation of the brain.

Excruciating Pain

The finger infection can cause one or more vesicle on your finger. It can trigger a burning sensation or tingling pain. So, you can find it difficult to use the infected finger. The pain you experience is similar to other herpes infection. Once you experience severe pain, you can see changes on your skin.

Swollen Lymph Nodes

Your finger infection can result in the swelling of lymph nodes in your upper limb or armpit. It is another complication associated with herpetic whitlow.

Other Complications

Apart from the above-mentioned complications, you can also see one or more of the following:

  • Nail damage
  • Scarring
  • Skin hypersensitivity
  • Numbness

So, you need to adopt some steps to alleviate the discomfort and prevent the spreading of infection. If you feel severe discomfort, then see your doctor immediately.

Preventing Herpetic Whitlow

Avoiding exposure is the only possible way to prevent the condition. Therefore, you need to take steps to ensure that you may not become exposed to the HSV causing the problem. You can follow the steps suggested below:

Wear Gloves

If you work in the healthcare sector, you have more chances of exposure to HSV. So, you need to wear gloves while working on patients who have a viral infection. It will prevent coming in contact with the virus causing the issue.

Wash Hands

You need to practice strict hand washing policy. Try to clean your hands by washing it with soap or solution. It can prevent the transfer of the virus from the surface to the hands.

Observe Fluid Precautions

You need to follow the universal rule of fluid precaution to keep you safe from HSV. So, use protective clothing to protect the different areas of your exposed skin during activities or procedures that increase the probability of coming in contact with blood or bodily fluids. So, use protection for your mouth, eyes, and nose during the procedure. The procedures have the risk of generating sprays or splashes of body fluids or blood.

Caution With Infected People

People working in the medical field need to maintain caution when they treat patients affected by HSV. The oral, genital or genital lesions are contagious in nature. So, when you come in contact with such lesions, you can get the infection too. Parents of children with HSV infection also need to maintain caution.

If you have HSV, then you need to convey it to your medical or dental professional. It will help them take the necessary precaution before working on you. It is your responsibility to tell your condition truthfully to avoid the spread of infection.


Herpetic whitlow occurs most commonly in healthcare professional who deals with infected patients on a regular basis. Therefore, it is prominently found in dental and medical personnel. The painful infection is easy to manage with early intervention. But, even after the initial infection clears, the virus can remain dormant in the affected person’s body for several years. So, in rare cases, you can see the infection recurring. But, the chances are low for another outbreak. If you suffer from the problem or observe recurrence, then see a doctor immediately. You can manage the condition with medication and reduce the frequency of painful infection from affecting your fingers. In most cases, the infection goes away after the virus runs its course. It is important not to drain it as it can cause bacterial infection. You can manage the painful condition by opting effective home remedies.

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