A finger infection is a common condition. The hands as well as fingers are obvious tools which help us in physically interacting with other things around us, hence, more at the risk of being in touch with infectious bacteria and other germs. When these germs get inside the finger, they can cause an infection to the affected finger(s).
These germs can enter the finger through a tinny cut injury on the finger skin. Other ways these infectious bacteria can get access to inside the finger can be through animal bites (including human bites), insect bites or any sort of puncture wound on the finger.
There are different types of these finger infections, and with varying severity ranging from mild to potentially serious outcome. Often, these infections start out small and are relatively easy to treat. Failure to properly treat these infections can result in permanent disability or loss of the affected finger(s). Infection to the finger(s) can also spread to the palm and cause serious hand infections.
Early recognition and proper treatment of these finger infections will help prevent most of these serious outcomes.
These infections might start at swelling of the fingertip or pad of fingertip, or swelling on the surface of the skin of the affected finger.
This infection may also start as swelling and pain of tissues on the edges of the finger near the nail root, as this area provides the perfect place for bacteria to enter the finger. Thus, the most common site of bacterial infection of the hand.
Less commonly, viral infection of the hand, usually on the fingers, can be caused by a herpes virus and is more commonly seen in healthcare workers whose hands are exposed to the saliva of patients carrying herpes. This condition characterised by small, swollen, painful blood-tinged blisters and sometimes numbness, is typically mild and resolves on its own in several weeks without many after-effects. Still, proper medical evaluation should be sought to confirm this.
The diagnosis of this finger infection will most times be made through listening to the history of the complaint and doing a physical exam. Other tests may be done to rule out other associated conditions which would make the disease to have a worse outcome, such as poorly controlled diabetes.
Once the diagnosis of a finger infection is made, medical treatment involves immediate aggressive antibiotics (usually injected into the vein), as well as a proper surgical cut to wash out all the possible formed pus. This maybe done as a day care case and the patient goes home on regular follow-up for any improvement or worsening, as well as for a proper full course of antibiotics. Other patients will require hospitalisation for the full treatment.
Preventive measures against these finger infections involve safety practices which help prevent many of the finger wounds that become a problem. Simple things, such as wearing protective work gloves, may prevent injury. Wearing latex gloves should be mandatory if possible exposure to bodily fluids is expected. Avoid chewing on one’s nails, and hand-washing is needed. Seeking early medical attention as soon as one thinks a finger infection is present is very important for the best outcome.
Dr Ian Shyaka , Resident in Plastic surgery, Rwanda Military Hospital,