Multiple herpetic whitlow lesions in a 4-year-old girl: case report and review of the literature

Eur J Pediatr. 2001 Sep;160(9):528-33. doi: 10.1007/s004310100800.


Herpetic whitlow is a herpes simplex virus type 1 or 2 infection of the fingers characterised by erythema and painful, non-purulent vesicles. In children it typically occurs after auto-inoculation from herpes stomatitis, herpes labialis or genitalis. Occasionally, person-to-person transmission occurs from family members with herpes labialis. We report a 4-year-old girl with multiple herpetic whitlows secondary to herpetic stomatitis and present a review of the medical literature based on a systematic MEDLINE search of published paediatric patients (English, French and German language). Of 42 identified patients, 72% were younger than 2 years, most had endogenous or exogenous inoculation of herpes simplex virus type 1 and 65% were initially misdiagnosed as having "bacterial felon". Recurrences were reported in 23%.

Conclusion: herpetic whitlow should be suspected based on clinical signs. Specific diagnosis can be made by polymerase chain reaction or culture. The high rate of misdiagnosed cases indicates that this entity is not sufficiently known. Lesions are self-limited; surgical interventions can be harmful and should be avoided. Recurrences occur as frequently as in adults.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acyclovir / therapeutic use*
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Herpes Simplex / diagnosis*
  • Herpes Simplex / drug therapy*
  • Herpes Simplex / prevention & control
  • Herpesvirus 1, Human / isolation & purification
  • Herpesvirus 2, Human / isolation & purification
  • Humans
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Recurrence


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Acyclovir