What is herpetic whitlow?

Herpetic Whitlow
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Herpetic whitlow: Overview

Herpetic whitlow is a finger infection. It's usually caused by the herpes virus that causes cold sores. It can spread to a finger from a cold sore in or around your mouth. Whitlow also can be caused by the virus that causes genital herpes.

An area of your finger may be red. It may have a small group of blisters. Your finger also may hurt, itch, or tingle.

Your finger should get better on its own. This may take a few weeks. But whitlow may come back to the same area of your finger.

Your doctor may prescribe medicines to help fight the herpes virus. You may be asked to cover your finger with a bandage. This can avoid spreading the infection.

How can you care for a herpetic whitlow?

  • Be safe with medicines. Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.
  • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
  • Follow your doctor's advice to care for your finger. If you did not get instructions:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a nonstick bandage.

Herpetic whitlow in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has symptoms that the infection is getting worse, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • Fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

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