I have Herpetic Whitlow


I have had Herpetic Whitlow on my left thumb for 12 years. I contracted it back in 1996 and I have no idea how. I have been struggling living with this debilitating disease and I find it really hard to care for my two children. I constantly wear latex gloves when bathing or changing them and am still in fear of giving this to them. From what I understand, in-tact skin doesn’t shed, so as long as I am not currently having an outbreak, I am not contagious. But I struggle with this aspect and even when I am not experiencing an outbreak, I still wear the gloves.

When I first got this, I was breaking out on an average of every other month, it was awful. But then my doc put me on Famvir, 500 mg, twice daily. Over the years, my OBs have become less frequent. I believe this is due to the Famvir and the virus getting weaker over time. I broke out a week before my first daughter was born, which sucked and then two years went by and I hadn’t broken out at all until I was pregnant with my second child. Then, I broke out at 7 months pregnant and again a week before the birth of my daughter. Luckily, I have a very caring and understanding husband who was willing to do all of the bathing and changing until my outbreaks healed.

This may sound completely ignorant, but I honestly feel that if I had Herpes genitally or orally, I wouldn’t struggle with this as much. For the simple fact that I would still be able to change diapers, bathe my children and interact freely with them without concern. Having this on my hand is very hard to deal with when having children. – M

126 thoughts on “I have Herpetic Whitlow

  1. do they actually blister and scab??? even on ativirals…what does systemic herpes look like?

  2. Yes. blister and scab.
    Just now starting antiviral…so I HOPE NOT…That is the point of antiviral meds, right. It seems the meds make me sleepy, so I need to work around that. What do they look like, well, have you ever had a cold sore? That is exactley what mine look like, except instead of on the lip, on the balls of my hands and fingers and then the next week popped out on my feet- yeah! Right? NOT. I am in the healing process and can joke about it a bit, but…my life is not over. I will get through this. It is horrible (the ob) but if I can avoid them w/meds, then I am hoping for the best. I know it will be okay. God Bless.

  3. Herpes cannot survive outside the body for too long. As for Nail Salons.. it’s important to research where you plan to have your nails done and find out what their cleaning practices are before you have your nails done. I know that materials and utensils have to be clean and sterile before beginning on a new client. So no.. you are not going to contract herpes from a nail salon that uses clean methods and practices safe techniques. Herpes is transmitted skin to skin usually through some form of sex.

  4. You’re welcome. I hope it was helpful. This is horrible, and it seems like more and more people are having problems with these salons. I guess they’re not regulated as tightly as other “healthcare type businesses.” But my point of view is if you’re cutting, scrapping, filing, grinding, etc., there’s potential for infection of all types and strict antimicrobial measures need to be in place. I truly understand the freaking out about this. I know that for most people, antivirals do respond well, but they can upset your stomach and who wants to be on lifelong medication with the possibility of infecting others, having painful outbreaks, etc. Especially when it was something that could have so easily been prevented. I have to run, have more to say, but I’m glad I was helpful and good luck and God Bless to you too. Julie

  5. Herpes antivirals are not life-long medicines. Nobody has to be on a herpes antiviral for the rest of their life. I have no idea where you are getting your information from but that is not correct and to make it seem like it is can be misleading to someone that doesn’t know any better. Also, there are always going to be possible side effects that may or may not affect you. That’s with anything that you take including things like Advil, Tylenol, etc. Everyone is different.

  6. Ahhhh, well if you don’t want an outbreak, and cannot afford one- you can take them (daily)to reduce ob. My doc says that you can take them in a rx dosage (everyone is different) to avoid obs and research shows for some…lasting 2years. That sounds good to me. That is what the doc says, from experience.

  7. I have had hw since 2004 and i still have outbreaks. And of course i have chronic phn now as well as muscle weakness and spasms in my arm. I have permanent nerve damage. All of this is due to the fact that i went two years without a corret diagnosis. It is a nightmare and i have been resistant to ALL anti viral meds.

  8. Gayla,
    I am so sorry. But talk to your doc…show him the below and try what he suggests…don’t give up. The only difference of my newly started regime is I use Zovirax ointment the minute I itch or see a blister forming. I started taking the pills at (500mg 4x per day) I get the pills in 1G form and break them. It has cut my ob in half, including the healing. I am so glad. I have a public profession and I cannot afford to miss work or look like a blistering freak. God bless you in your treatment. Just don’t give up. Something is bound to work for you.

    Treatment with antiviral drugs can help people who are bothered by genital herpes outbreaks stay symptom-free longer. These drugs can also reduce the severity and duration of symptoms when they flare up. Drug therapy is not a cure, but it can make living with the condition easier.

    There are three major drugs commonly used to treat genital herpes symptoms: acyclovir (Zovirax), famciclovir (Famvir), and valacyclovir (Valtrex). These are all taken in pill form. Severe cases may be treated with intravenous (IV) acyclovir.

    Formulas applied to the surface of the skin provide little benefit, and doctors don’t usually recommend them.

    When Treatments for Genital Herpes Are Given
    Initial treatment. If you have symptoms such as sores when you’re first diagnosed with genital herpes, your doctor will usually give you a brief course (seven to 10 days) of antiviral therapy to relieve them or prevent them from getting worse. Your doctor may keep you on the drugs longer if your sores don’t heal in that time.
    After the first treatment, work with your doctor to come up with the best way to take antiviral therapies. There are two options:

    Intermittent treatment. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug for you to keep on hand in case you have another flare-up; this is called intermittent therapy. You can take the pills for two to five days as soon as you notice sores or when you feel an outbreak coming on. Sores will heal and disappear on their own, but taking the drugs can make the symptoms less severe and make them go away faster.
    Suppressive treatment. If you have outbreaks often, you may want to consider taking an antiviral drug every day. Doctors call this suppressive therapy. For someone who has more than six outbreaks a year, suppressive therapy can reduce the number of outbreaks by 70% to 80%. Many people who take the antiviral drugs daily have no outbreaks at all.
    There is no set number of outbreaks per year that doctors use to decide when someone should start suppressive therapy. Rather, more important factors are how often the outbreaks happen and if they are severe enough to interfere with your life.

    Taking daily suppressive therapy may also reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to a sex partner. Antiviral drugs reduce viral shedding, when the virus makes new copies of itself on the skin’s surface.

    A recent study of people taking daily doses of valacyclovir shows the drug may help protect sex partners from being infected, although you should still use a condom. Half the partners of people taking daily valacyclovir became infected with the virus, and half did not. Moreover, 75% of the partners did not show any symptoms of genital herpes, even if they had acquired the virus.

    Side Effects and Follow-up Care for Genital Herpes
    Side effects with these drugs are considered mild, and health experts believe these drugs are safe in the long term. Acyclovir is the oldest of the three, and its safety has been documented in people taking suppressive therapy for several years.

    People taking suppressive therapy should see their doctor at least once a year to decide if they should continue. You may find taking the pills every day to be inconvenient, the drugs may not work for you, or you may naturally have fewer outbreaks as time goes on. Your doctor can help you make treatment choices to suit your needs.

    WebMD Medical Reference

  9. I am a nurse, and I do not claim to know everything, but the lifelong therapy is to avoid outbreaks and reduce outbreak severity. Everyone is different with infections based on their immune system and how they respond to drug therapy. The same antivirals are used for genital herpes as are for HW, oral, occular, etc. It’s the same virus but can be type 1 or type 2, of which both can infect the various locations…fingers, genitals, mouth, eyes, and based on the site of infection, the virus resides in the local nerve roots and can cause nerve damaage and repeated outbreaks. I have freinds who have been taking the antivirals and have seen patients who take them since first contact or outbreak or diagnosis (10+ years). To me that is lifelong, as the immune system weakens with age and viruses never leave once there. I am not trying to be misleading, I am trying to be factual and informational based on what I have researched, learned from people with the infection, and witnessed myself. Some people are fortunate and have the one OB, others are not and are injured much more intensely. The fact that people are contracting this from unsanitary salons that, as I said above, clip, cut, scrap, file and grind on the soft skin around the nails with water, is not right, and more strict antimicrobial measures need to be taken. I am angry because this is my young daughter and when you’re a parent and see something happen, such as this, and know it was unnecessary, it’s maddening!

  10. Correction to something…one friend does not take the antivirals everyday, but most days orwhen she can tell an outbreak is coming from nerve sensation (pain and tingling)

  11. I have had herpetic whitlow for 14 years. I have had 4 outbreaks, all resulting in blood poisoning. I do not have genital herpes or get cold sores, but worked in a lab that made retainers & worked with dental molds. I don’t know if this is where I contracted this, but its the only logical one. I read that reoccurance is milder with HW, but I have found that each of my outbreaks are getting progressively worse. I’m in the process of making a will & getting life insurance bc I’m worried this will become a super infection. I’m on 800 mg acyclovir five times daily and my hand arm and finger are still tingling and painful. Does anyone have any idea how often these turn into super viruses unable to treat? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  12. Hi,
    In response, the medication you are on seems a bit high (I only take 800 mg a day) but everyone is different. I used to get cold sores, but on the meds- not any more. The minute I go off the meds, I will get an ob. So, talk to your Doc about this (lowering the dosage), it make help with the tingling. Good luck. I have now been on the meds for 1 year and have not had an ob. I am so glad to find out the dosage and meds to help me live and get back to a so called New Normal life. God Bless you.

  13. I have herpes Whitlow and I tested positive for hsv 2 I am a nurse and I am not sure if I got it from a patient or my boyfriend I have not had any genital breakouts. Should I go into another profession. Not sure what to do.

  14. Hi Everyone, I’m a first time visitor here and i’m not sure on what to believe anymore. I don’t remember when i first started having my ob’s (years ago) but i just had pathology come back as HSV 2. Everything i read says it originates from some sort of sexual contact. But i don’t have any ob on genitals, it occurs on right hand only. Is this Herpes Whitlow? I feel like no one understands me when an ob happens, i get extremely tired/lethargic and achey, pain in hand and of course the red line of ‘poison’ running up my arm. My doc has given me a sample of valtrex to have for one day if i feel an ob is on its way. These occur when my immune is running low or in stressful times.. I work full time, am studying at uni (online) and am also raising my teenage daughter.. can anyone offer advice ? Feeling misunderstood..

  15. Louise, it does sound like you have HW. It seems to be pretty rare and goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed a lot. It took years and lots of docs before I was finally diagnosed. I haven’t had an OB in quite awhile now (thank goodness). So hopefully, with medication, taken when you feel those telltale signs, you can get yours under control too. Good luck! Remember, you aren’t alone!

  16. I have had HW since about 1996. I get outbreaks every so often. They seem to be caused by either severely stressful times, hormonal changes, or contact with certain chemicals. I have one right now and I am 6 months pregnant. This pregnancy has been extremely stressful for many reasons plus the hormones so it’s no surprise I have an outbreak. Taking care of a newborn with this is going to be super fun :(

  17. I was diagnosed with Herpetic Whitlow about 12 years ago. My breakouts started on the lower part of my left thumb. Over the years the breakout actually moved from my thumb to the inside of my left palm. I had chicken pox as a child and I have had cold sores on my lip in the past. No genital herpes or adult shingles. Over the years I would have regular breakouts that were treated with topical Acyclovir and Valtrex orally. In 2004, I did a whole year on Valtrex because of the continued breakouts. That helped for a couple of years then the breakouts started again but less frequently. They always seemed to happen just before monthly menstruation. Of course stress seems to accompany PMS ! Lately no breakouts but the pain in my left arm is at times unbearable. It seems to run down my arm from the shoulder area and ends in my hand. Feels like the pain is my bones. Im thinking maybe I have permanent nerve damage from all the breakouts. At least when I would breakout the pain in the arm would at least stop.Would love any suggestions as far as what doctor to see about the hand/arm pain. It’s depressing me.

  18. okay you are completely dramatic and ignorant minded to say that you’d rather have hsv2. as someone who has hsv2, and who ALSO has whitlow, i would rather have just whitlow. hsv2 means that if pregnant, your developing fetus could be born with the disease or contract it during delivery, even if having a C-section and even AFTER you’ve already built antibodies after several outbreaks. And debilitating??? I think not… Devesating, yes. Talk to someone who has multiple sclerosis, parkinson’s, or is an outright quadriplegic before you call an hsv outbreak on your finger debilitating. & count your blessings. Be thankful for the little ones you gave birth to, who didn’t get infected and die or run the possibility of doing so due to a maternal hsv2 outbreak, and births that didn’t result in your own genital outbreak due to the trauma of the delivery. Not to speak of the already present normal 6 week recovery period of child birth, which is painful enough on it’s own. & stitches on top of all this due to tearing. Ouch. So get a life!!!
    yea I’m sorry you’re dealing with this, but pity-seeking just makes you look like a bigger idiot.

  19. Wow to above comment! You need to flip your empathy switch back into the on posistion. I was just dx’d with hw today thoughti’ve probably had it for years. The middle finger of my right hand is super swollen and supet painful and i feel super gross right now. Dr says it’s ooky like this because i have lupus.
    I can understand how a person would rather have genital or oral. This is going to be hard to work around for me. I do all of my families cooking and baking and while i’m sure using gloves will stop the spread of it the fear will always linger that i could pass this to my man and my boys :-(
    I don’t think the comment before mine was at all ok, pain and sickness as an experience are both subjective and can not be measured by the yard stick of who has it worse. You sound really sad and angry. I hope you find happiness and the ability to love on a more universale scale.

  20. I started getting these painful blisters about 3 years ago on my right middle finger (around cuticle) while pregnant with my son. I was working fast food doing prep wearing gloves and getting hands wet all day so dermatologists diagnosed it as dishydrotic eczema. I recently had two genital outbreaks and freaked, thought my boyfriend cheated. Went to ob/gyn and tested positive for herpes 1 & 2. Most likely contracted from him when we first started dating. He has no symptoms at all and I had maybe 2 genital outbreaks but the herpetic whitlow comes about every 3 months. This last outbreak I tried taking the anti viral meds the dr prescribed me for the herpe 2 and it really reduced the redness, tenderness and itching on hand in 3 days. And no pus blisters either (which I would normally pop with pin to relieve the pressure). I would like it has seemed to “travel” down my middle finger and now is mostly in my palm. Took 3 years to travel that far. I’m hoping it will at least stop at my hand with meds and not travel to arm. Also dr said it is most likely passed (in my type of case) from me contracting genital herpes and then spreading it to myself (or with contact with my boyfriend) through a hangnail or cut on my finger. Its not the end of the world, even the genital herpes. Its just something you learn to deal with :)

  21. I feel extremely sorry for anybody dealing with these outbreaks or the tingling/itching that preludes the outbreaks. It seems that it would almost be easier to deal with genital outbreaks because it’s not as on display as much as herpes whitlow or cold sores.
    I’ve been taking acyclovir once a day for supressive therapy since 2011. The genital outbreaks have been far less frequent, however the breakouts on the palm of my hand can occasionally be pretty brutal. I took 2 acyclovir pills yesterday, 8 hours apart and 800mg doses. This is because I woke up with the tingling and itching on the palm on my right hand. That is my predominant hand so it’s quite uncomfortable to go about my day dealing with the pain and itchiness. I woke up in the noddle of the night with maddening itching on my palm and tingling. I ran the cold water on the spot to help alleviate the pain and then let some Witch Hazel soak into the area. Sleeping was awful because I sometimes sleep on my hand and I had to keep aware and keep my hand far from my face. The bumps are there however they aren’t full on blisters and hopefully won’t get that way.
    I have a 2 yr old daughter and this particular outbreak worries me so when I change her diaper I am wearing a glove.
    Today I have a doc appt and I’m going to have him help me with this whitlow issue. I am seeing there are some topical anti virals so hopefully he will prescribe something that will give me more relief.
    Everyone’s journey with this virus is different. I was diagnosed with genitalia herpes when I was 19, I am now 33. It took me years to overcome depression due to the diagnosis. But I still have rough days. I was discussing my breakout on my hand today with my mom when she suddenly started being self righteous and saying that’s why people shouldn’t have unprotected sex. When I was 19 she kicked me out and my only option was to rent a room bi weekly at a motel and since I had no close friends and was rather lonely it’s no surprise to me that I was promiscuous.
    Keep fighting the good fight, people. When you’re feeling low, consciously acknowledge your feelings and understand you have every right to feel the way you do, but you also have the right to live a happy life. Find a treatment to work for you depending on your ob’s. Hopefully you have someone to confide in during bad days. I wish I did.

  22. Try to avoid soy & whey protein. The virus loves those proteins. I used to get the HW blisters on my middle finger around every three months. Then around 2008 I had an extremely painful OB with the worse blisters. The red streak of nerve pain was unbearable and the OB lasted for 3 weeks. At that time I was drinking 2 protein shakes daily. I stopped drinking the shakes & the OB cleared up. Then there was literally a voice that whispered that the soy & whey caused the OB. I immediately started reducing my soy & whey consumption. Since then I have only had 2 OBs since 2008. That was because I ate edamame, which are soy beans.

  23. I am self diagnosing. I think I have this. I have had blood poisoning once and the breakout on my thumb at least 3 times this year. I know I have herpes.

    Does anyone have tingling/numbness in the opposite hand fingers? I also have ear issues on the same side as my Bo, lots of pain. I also have problems with my jaw (on the same side as breakout) it is “locked”. All of this is made worse by stress, and I have a very stress ful job.

  24. Tina – WOW! 2 outbreaks since 2008, that’s pretty good. I’m almost positive that the virus eventually adjusts to your body over time. I do get that there are probably foods that can trigger different symptoms but I attribute that to the fact that we are all wired differently.

    Mary – Instead of trying to diagnose yourself, why not make an appointment to see a family doctor or a specialist who can help you figure out what’s going on? Tingling and numbness can be a sign of many things including poor circulation. If it were me, I would see an orthodontist about your jaw.

  25. i have hw and i get outbreaks now and then. my problem is with the swelling. even when there is no blisters my hand stays swollen. i have tried everything it seems

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