What is a whitlow?

A whitlow is a painful and highly contagious infection on the fingers caused by the herpes simplex virus. It is also known as herpetic whitlow.

There are two types of herpes simplex virus—type 1 and type 2—and both can cause herpetic whitlow. A whitlow can occur when broken skin on your finger comes in direct contact with body fluids infected with the herpes simplex virus. These body fluids may come from you or someone else.

A whitlow can cause pain, itching, redness or swelling on your fingers. Your fingers may also develop small blisters. Whitlow may be accompanied by more general symptoms, such as fever, enlarged lymph nodes or red streaking on the hands or arms. These symptoms may indicate a serious infection.

A whitlow often resolves without treatment in two to three weeks. However, your health care provider may prescribe medications to reduce symptoms such as pain or itching. If you experience frequent or severe cases of whitlow, your heath care provider may prescribe antiviral medications to prevent or limit the severity of future infections.

Whitlow is rarely associated with a serious medical condition. However, seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your whitlow, or that of someone you are with, is associated with a high fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit), confusion, or loss of consciousness for even a brief moment.

Seek prompt medical care if your whitlow is persistent, recurrent, or causes you concern.


What are the symptoms of whitlow?

Symptoms of whitlow primarily affect the fingers, but other general body symptoms may accompany your finger symptoms and may indicate a severe infection.

Finger symptoms of whitlow

A whitlow usually causes symptoms on your fingers including:


What causes a whitlow?

Whitlow is caused by infection with the herpes simplex virus (HSV). There are two types of herpes simplex virus: HSV-1 and HSV-2. HSV-1 is more common and is often contracted during childhood. It is usually associated with cold sores and blisters on the lips, mouth or face. HSV-2 is slightly less common. It is primarily transmitted sexually and usually causes sores in the genital area. However,... Read more about whitlowcauses


How is whitlow treated?

In many cases, a whitlow infection will heal without treatment after two to three weeks. Although there is no treatment that will eliminate herpes simplex virus from your body, your health care provider may suggest medications to improve the symptoms of whitlow.

Treatments to manage symptoms

To manage or reduce the symptoms of whitlow, your heath care provider may recom... Read more about whitlowtreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Infections and Contagious Diseases

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