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Herpetic Whitlow in Children: Care Instructions

Herpetic whitlow on top section of child's finger, with closeup of redness and blisters on skin


Herpetic whitlow is a finger infection. It's usually caused by the herpes virus that causes cold sores. It can spread to a finger from a cold sore in or around your child's mouth.

An area of your child's finger may be red. It may have a small group of blisters. Your child's finger also may hurt, itch, or tingle.

The finger should get better on its own. This may take a few weeks. But whitlow may come back to the same area of the finger.

The doctor may prescribe medicines to help fight the herpes virus. You may be asked to cover your child's finger with a bandage. This can help avoid spreading the infection.

Follow-up care is a key part of your child's treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if your child is having problems. It's also a good idea to know your child's test results and keep a list of the medicines your child takes.

How can you care for your child at home?

  • Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you think your child is having a problem with a medicine.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for pain. Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 18. It has been linked to Reye syndrome, a serious illness.
  • If your doctor told you how to care for your child's finger, follow your doctor's instructions. If you did not get instructions, follow this general advice:
    • Wash the area with clean water 2 times a day. Don't use hydrogen peroxide or alcohol, which can slow healing.
    • You may cover the area with a thin layer of petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, and a non-stick bandage.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child has symptoms that the infection is getting worse, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • Fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:

  • Your child does not get better as expected.

Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.