Whitlow: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment.

Photo credit: nhs.uk

Whitlow is a contagious infection caused by the Herpes simplex virus. It is a painful lesion typically on the finger and the thumb. It can cause, itching, redness, and swelling on the finger.

Symptoms of Whitlow

At first, the infected area will burn or tingle, and the person may begin to experience pain before any noticeable lesion shows up. As the infection develops, the finger will then begin to swell and redden.

A blister, or a group of blisters will appear and begin to fill with either liquid or pus as the case may be. Those blisters are typically small, and very painful to the touch.

What Causes Whitlow?

Herpetic Whitlow is commonly caused by Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV); the virus that commonly causes cold sores and genital herpes.
Herpetic Simplex Virus is of two types; HSV-1 and HSV-2.
HSV-1 infections usually occur around the face, in the mouth, nose, or lips, while HSV-2 infections typically involve the area around the genitals.

Treatment of Whitlow

Although without treatment, a whitlow infection heals itself after two to three weeks, antiviral medications are often used to treat herpetic whitlow.

The antiviral treatments are used to help reduce the time it will take for healing, and also reduce the risk of the virus spreading to other parts of the body.

It is very important to begin antiviral treatment within the first 48 hours of any symptoms occurring.

Treatment for herpetic whitlow can involve oral medications and topical creams.

They include:

  • Antiviral medications, such as oral acyclovir, oral famciclovir (Famvir), and oral valacyclovir (Valtrex).
  • Analgesics, such as Ibuprofen and acetaminophen, to reduce pain and fever, if present.
  • Topical anesthetics, to reduce local itching, and pain on the finger. Examples prilocaine, lidocaine, benzocaine, and tetracaine.

Note that antiviral medications are typically used for 1-2 weeks or until the infection clears up.

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