Epidemiology of Herpes Whitlow

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Herpetic whitlow or Herpes Whitlow is rare to the public. Its methods of transmission define which groups of individuals are susceptible to acquiring herpetic whitlow. There are three main methods of transmission:

  • direct skin-to-skin contact with the herpetic lesion,
  • contact with saliva-coated items and/or virus-bearing saliva and
  • autoinfection, like nail biting in an individual with either stomatitis infection or a cold sore (herpes labialis).

Herpetic whitlow is caused by the herpes simplex virus being brought in via a break in the skin of the fingers. Any scrape, cut, or slight trauma is enough to compromise the skin’s integrity. Those susceptible to acquiring herpetic whitlow are individuals with herpetic lesions that are active elsewhere on their bodies, people who constantly bite their nails and have either stomatitis or herpes labialis and individuals who have direct skin-to-skin contact with the saliva of individuals with either genital or oral lesions. Health staff at high risk take in anesthetists, anesthesiologists, intensive care nurses, dentists, dental hygienists, and respiratory therapists.

herpes-on-palm
Herpes Whitlow or Herpes on hands

The occurrence of herpetic infections in medical staff is perhaps higher than expected. The reservoir of HSV is extensive because 90% to 96% of the adult individuals possess antibodies that indicate the previous contact to the virus.

HSV is widespread, with most of the infections being subclinical, causing 10% to 20% of the US population being affected clinically by the HSV. By 15 years old, most of the general population possesses antibodies. On the other hand, the higher the socio-economic status of a person, the less likely it is that they ever underwent an HSV infection. In research studies perform in the UK, Stern and Associates reported a projected 49% of nurses without antibodies, and in a study by Juel-Jensen, only 32.8% of students were discovered to have antibodies.

This is similar to the epidemiological United States pattern. Due to their seemingly higher socioeconomic status, the medical staff has a low frequency of antibody. These factors, along with an increased herpes simplex virus exposure via contact with genital, oral, or respiratory secretions, give rise to a higher occurrence of herpetic whitlow among hospital staff in groups with high risk.

This is similar to the epidemiological United States pattern. Due to their seemingly higher socioeconomic status, the medical staff has a low frequency of antibody. These factors, along with an increased herpes simplex virus exposure via contact with genital, oral, or respiratory secretions, give rise to a higher occurrence of herpetic whitlow among hospital staff in groups with high risk.

Knowing the epidemiology of herpes whitlow will give you an awareness of how it is acquired and how it works inside your body. The knowledge will help you better detect and determine herpetic whitlow infection and do something about it.