Herpetic Whitlow is a condition wherein blisters form in the fingers due to infection by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), by two strains of the pathogen HSV-1 and HSV-2. While HSV-1 induces cold sores i.e. oral herpes, HSV-2 is the primary reason for genital herpes.
Also known as whitlow finger, it arises when the herpes virus invades the skin at the tips of fingers. Herpetic whitlow invariably induces intense pain in the fingertips, aside from swelling and redness owing to inflammatory reactions triggered by the virus. Although not a very severe condition, herpetic whitlow at times requires treatment with antiviral medications to mitigate the symptoms.
Causes Of Herpetic Whitlow:
The chief cause of herpetic whitlow is the exposure of skin on the fingers to skin that is already contaminated with the herpes virus. This can happen when a normal individual touches the skin of an infected person on their face, hands or genitals, when the person brings their fingers in direct contact with virus-infected areas in their own body, or while biting on the nails or chewing the fingertips when carrying the herpes virus in the skin and system.
Furthermore, individuals in healthcare professions such as doctors, dentists, nurses are at higher risk of contracting the herpes virus owing to frequent exposure to infected patients in hospitals and clinics.
Factors such as stress, fever, hormonal imbalance, prolonged sun exposure, trauma from physical, mental or emotional aspects and a compromised immune system make a person more susceptible to developing herpetic whitlow on their fingers.
The characteristic sign of herpetic whitlow consist of:
- Swelling in the fingers, with pain and redness
- Formation of blisters filled with pus on the fingertips
- Tingling sensation and colour changes in fingertips
- Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpits and elbows
- Prominent red streaks in the afflicted fingers
- Fever and fatigue
The viral infection manifests in the skin and body usually 2 – 20 days post coming in contact with the pathogens and the typical indications associated with herpetic whitlow appear about 5 – 6 days following infection, with painful blisters filled with fluid developing on the fingertips.
In some cases, herpetic whitlow subsides after a few weeks and recurs in the same original spot on the fingers, but presents with milder symptoms, along with itching and burning in the hands. Recurrence of herpetic whitlow is less severe than the initial viral infection and does not induce intense pain and discomfort in the fingers.
In the majority of instances, herpetic whitlow goes away on its own within 2 – 4 weeks. The doctor prescribes antiviral medications to pacify the discomforting symptoms and also prevent the herpes virus infection from spreading to various other organs and tissues in the body.
In addition, pain-relieving medicines are given to the patient to soothe tenderness in the fingertips and if a bacterial infection arises in the region, then antibiotics are also prescribed.
These treatment methods help manage the pain and severity of symptoms, but there is no complete cure for infection with the herpes simplex virus/HSV – the virus remains in the body and resides in an inactivated form in the nerve cells. It may recur or may not pose further infection.
Simple home remedies like covering the blisters on the fingers, steering clear of touching the infected areas of skin and washing hands regularly aid in resolving herpetic whitlow and rectify the swelling and pus-filled lumps in the fingers of the patient, thereby mitigating pain and discomfort.