Herpes on hands is caused by the herpes simplex virus. It may also be called herpetic whitlow or simply whitlow. It is characterized by painful lesions that may be found on the hands, thumbs and the fingers and may also occasionally affect the foot, toes and on the cuticle of the toe nails. This kind of infection is caused by HSV-1 or HSV-2.

Herpes on hands are common in health workers especially dentists who touch infected lesions on patients’ mouth; direct skin contact to oral secretions is the most popular way of contacting the disease. Babies and young children may also get herpes on hands with primary oral herpes infection as young children tend to suck their fingers.

Symptoms of herpes on hands

Herpes rash on Finger
This patient with meningococcal meningitis developed a herpes simplex vesiculopapular rash on his right middle finger.
Photo: CDC/ Dr. Thomas Sellers, Emory University, 1963

The classic flu-like symptoms often precede the appearance of lesions. There is slight fever especially in very young children, colds and also swollen lymph nodes. Lesions appear on the tip of the fingers and may even be seen in small clumps near the fingernails, in between two fingers and may also spread on the palms of the hands. Unlike lesions that may be present in herpes on legs and the torso, herpes on hands are small but may merge with other nearby lesions to form larger ones. Initially, small lesions have clear liquid but as they merge with other lesions the liquid inside vesicles become cloudy.

There is pain on the area where lesions are located and pain may last until the lesions heal. Typically herpes on hands lesions heal in a matter of two to three weeks even without medical attention. Flu-like symptoms subside as lesions appear. When lesions burst and open the liquid coming from the lesion can infect nearby skin.

Treatments for herpes on hands

Herpes on hands is treated with anti-viral medications. Medications are taken orally until all the lesions have healed. Aside from oral anti-viral medication, special treatments like the following are needed:

· Control fever and other flu-like symptoms by taking medication for fever and by increasing fluid intake. Keep patient hydrated especially young children as they suffer from moderate to high fevers.

· Headache and swollen lymph nodes may be treated with paracetamol and by using cold compresses.

· Pain on the hands brought about by lesions may be controlled by using cold compresses or by taking pain medication. Keep lesions clean; when lesions erupt, do not pick or press them. Wash your hands regularly to prevent spread of the virus.

Prevention is the most important aspect of treatment and to deal with the spread of the virus. Frequent hand washing is important especially in health workers who touch patients infected with the virus. Workers should wear protective clothing like glove, masks, eye shields and gowns when dealing with patients.

Infected patients should never share food, eating utensils, tableware, hand towels and bath towels with other people. Babies and very young children should be treated for oral herpes virus and keep preoccupied to prevent thumb sucking; early consultation is the best way to deal with the herpes simplex virus

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