What is whitlow?

Whitlow also known as herpetic whitlow can be defined as a painful and highly contagious infection of the skin of the fingers and the toes caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV), it is a disease that is relative to oneself, which causes an abscess of the soft tissue at end of the fingernail or the toenail.

It always occurs when a broken skin on your fingernail or toenail comes in direct contact with fluids that are infected with the herpes simplex virus.

A whitlow finger and a normal finger.

Types of Whitlows

There are two types of whitlows, which are listed below.

  1. Herpetic whitlow: it is a lesion or abscess on the finger or toe caused by the herpes simplex virus that affects the fingernails and toenails. 
  2. Melanotic Whitlow: it is a lesion or abscess on the skin of the fingernail and toenail caused by nail-biting characterized by the formation of Melanotic tissue. 

Causes of Whitlow

The causes of whitlow are listed below:

  1. Bacterial infection
  2. Viral infection (Herpes Simplex Virus 1 and Herpes Simplex Virus 2) 

What are the risk factors for whitlow?

The risk factors for whitlow are listed below:

  1. Individuals who bite their nails 
  2. Self-inoculation with unwashed fingers 
  3. Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection
  4. Injury to the fingernail or toenail 

Clinical Manifestations of whitlow 

The signs and symptoms of whitlow are listed below:

  1. Redness around the finger
  2. Burning sensation on fingers
  3. Itchy feeling around the fingernails or toenails
  4. Swollen and extremely painful finger 
  5. Uncomfortable and even very extreme pain 
  6. A couple of blisters filled up with fluid 
  7. Tingling sensation around the fingernail or toenail

Diagnosis of Whitlow

The following techniques listed below are used to diagnose whitlow:

  1. History taking/Medical history: This is when the medical personnel asks various questions regarding your family history, social history, and medical history of the client.
  2. Physical Examination: This is done when the medical practitioner assesses the patient whole body system for any blisters, swelling, or irritation on the fingernails or toenails. 
  3. Blood test: This is when a scientist requests a blood sample from the clients to check for the particular organism causing the infection if it is bacteria or virus. 

Prevention of whitlow

The preventive measures of whitlow are listed below:

  1. Avoid the habit of excessively biting your fingernails and pulling the flesh around the fingers and toe to prevent the influx of microorganisms that causes infection. 
  2. If there is an injury around the fingernails, ensure that it is treated well and promptly to avoid infection 
  3. Ensure regular hand washing is done to prevent the spread of germs and bacteria. 
  4. Do not touch any open sore on people’s bodies to avoid being contaminated with germs and viruses that can lead to infection. 
  5. Ensure the use of ice packs or effective cooling compressors.

Treatments of whitlow

The treatment of whitlow is listed below:

  1. Ensure you take prescribed antibiotics and antiviral drugs to fight off infection.
  2. Finger can be dipped into the saltwater solution to relieve pain and give a mild relief 
  3. Ensuring that the affected finger is slightly elevated to reduce the pain felt 
  4. Ensure that proper cleaning through an aseptic technique is done to speed up the healing process. 

Complications of Whitlow

The complications of whitlow are listed below:

  1. Herpes Encephalitis (infection of the brain)
  2. Nail dystrophy 
  3. Cellulitis 
  4. Sepsis 

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