Table of Contents
Definition of Whitlow
An infection at the end of the finger, or less commonly the end of a toe, that contains pus and is very painful.
The area is inflamed, enlarged, erythematous (reddened), and often oozing.
A common cause of whitlow is infection with the herpes simplexvirus (HSV), conveyed to the finger via contact with infectious secretions from oral herpes infections or genital herpes lesions.
Some doctors use the terms whitlow and paronychia interchangeably, whereas others use whitlow to refer to HSV infection and paronychia to refer to bacterial infection.
It is important to distinguish between the causes of the infection as the treatment approach is different. Herpetic whitlow features the vesicles characteristic of HSV infection, and treatment is primarily to relieve symptoms. Bacterial paronychia lacks vesicles and treatment requires antibiotic medications.
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