Warts are common, especially in children and young adults. How do you get them and how can they be avoided? Here are some answers.
What exactly are warts?
There is a legend that claims that warts are caused by contact with a toad or a frog. In fact, warts are caused by a virus that infects certain skin cells, called human papilloma virus (HPV), of which there are several types. There are different types of warts such as common warts, flat warts and plantar warts.
As viral infections, warts are contagious and spread easily from person to person. It is estimated that approximately 12% of the population will develop a wart at some time, and they are more common in school-aged children (up to 20%). It can take anywhere from two to nine months from the time of contact with an infected person or surface to the onset of a wart.
They usually appear on the hands as raised papules. Their rough surface is usually dry and grayish in colour, and may be spotted with small black specks. They usually appear around the nails, on the fingers, knees and on the top of the hands. They can also be found on other areas of the body such as the face or back. They can be one or more. In two-thirds of people with common warts, they disappear without treatment within two years.
These warts are usually found in clusters and are mostly located on the face, neck and back of the hands. They are smooth and flesh-colored or light brown.
These are found on the soles of the feet and are hard and flat. They can make walking very painful and feel like you have a rock in your shoe. Plantar warts can sometimes be mistaken for corns (calluses).
Should I see a doctor?
Warts can be confused with other types of lesions. If in doubt, it is best to see a doctor. People with warts on the face and genitals should also see a doctor. Extensive lesions that are resistant to treatment should be evaluated by a doctor. Additionally, people with diabetes, blood circulation problems or neuropathy should be referred to a physician.
How do you get warts?
Warts are spread from person to person, sometimes indirectly. It often takes several months from the initial contact for a wart to become visible. Some warts can even remain "dormant" for years. Sometimes warts disappear on their own, but occasionally they can reappear in the same place.
Viruses that cause warts are often found in moist environments where young people (children or teenagers) are present, such as the wet floors of swimming pools, public showers, beaches, and sports facilities. Warts form more easily if the skin is damaged in some way, which is why they are more common in people who bite their nails or pull their cuticles.
What can be done to avoid warts?
Here are some tips:
- Avoid walking barefoot on wet surfaces where there are many children, such as swimming pools, public showers or water parks.
- Use a clean towel to dry your hands. Don't use a towel that has already been used by other people.
- Wear cotton socks and change them every day.
- Be especially careful if you have a skin lesion such as a scrape or cut (to your foot, for instance).
- If someone close to you has a wart, on their foot for example, encourage them to cover it with a bandage or to wear sandals or shoes to prevent the spread of the virus.
- Also, encourage them to wash their hands with warm, soapy water after touching their wart.
- Inspect your feet from time to time to identify the presence of a wart.
- If you find a lesion on your skin, but are not sure if it is a wart, see a doctor for a diagnosis.
For information about how to treat warts, read the following text: How to treat warts. We also encourage you to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about warts, their prevention and treatment.