A whitlow is a manifestation of the herpes simplex virus that appears on the fingers and causes considerable pain, according to Healthgrades. Whitlow infections usually clear up on their own after a few weeks, but advanced cases may require topical anesthetics, pain medications or antiviral treatments.
Whitlows are highly contagious and can also create redness and swelling for a patient, explains Healthgrades. The virus spreads when a person with open cuts touches bodily fluids contaminated with herpes simplex type 1 or type 2. It is possible for people with a herpes outbreak on their mouth or genitals to spread it to their own fingers through contact with their sores. People with compromised immune systems are especially at risk of contracting herpes.
A whitlow infection can create additional symptoms, such as blisters, burning or tingling in the hands. The virus can advance to a stage that causes symptoms in other areas of the body, including fever, enlarged lymph nodes, lymphangitis on the arms and body sores. If a person's fever rises above 101 degrees Fahrenheit or the individual experiences any confusion, it is important to seek medical attention as soon as possible, notes Healthgrades. To prevent a whitlow infection, people should avoid placing their fingers in their mouths and are encouraged to wash their hands frequently.