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Finger Infection (Viral)

What is a viral finger infection?

A viral infection usually occurs on one or more fingers. The same virus that causes cold sores usually causes the infection. This infection is also called herpetic whitlow. Most often the virus starts in the mouth and then enters the fingers through a break in the skin when your child sucks his thumb or finger.

Herpetic whitlow can last from 2 to 4 weeks.

What are the symptoms?

Your child may have:

  • painful fingers
  • redness
  • blisters in a cluster on the fingertips
  • fever.

Your child's healthcare provider can usually diagnose herpetic whitlow from a physical exam. Lab tests may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child's medical history and symptoms. The provider will examine your child. Your child may also have blood tests to help find the cause of your child’s illness. It is important to find out if the infection is caused by a virus or by bacteria.

How is it treated?

As with most viral infections, children with herpetic whitlow usually get better without special treatment. Antibiotics have no effect on viruses.

How can I take care of my child?

You can give your child acetaminophen or ibuprofen for both fever and pain.

Your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medicine. One kind of medicine is put on the skin. Your child may also need to take antiviral medicine by mouth to keep the blisters from coming back.

The fluid in the blisters is infectious. Cover the blisters with clothing (such as gloves or socks) or put gauze held in place by a bandage or tape lightly around the blister.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your provider IMMEDIATELY if:

  • Your child complains of eye pain.

Call your provider during office hours if:

  • the red area has increased in size
  • red streaks appear on the skin
  • the blisters start to drain pus.
Written by Kathryn Emery, MD, The Children's Hospital, Denver.
Pediatric Advisor 2012.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2012-02-02
Last reviewed: 2011-09-08
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2012 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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