You can ignore most warts

Warning: This section contains pictures which may cause slight discomfort!

Warts are one of the commonest virus infections to affect humans. They are caused by human papilloma virus (HPV). There are more than 50 varieties of this small virus. The HPV virus causes certain cells (squamous cells) to multiply rapidly. Squamous cells are most commonly found in skin.

Warts can occur at any age, but are rare in babies and small children. They are most common between the ages of 12 and 16.

Most (seven out of ten) warts are common warts and are easily recognised as raised, rough growths on the skin, usually the slightly thicker skin of hands and feet. They may be single or develop in quite large numbers. Two out of three disappear within two years of first appearing. Other varieties include the plantar warts, found on the soles of the foot. These are not usually raised but can be quite painful. Plane warts are smooth and flat, or only slightly raised, and may appear on the face.

Warts are spread by direct and indirect contact. However, the time between contact and the wart appearing, known as the incubation period, varies greatly. It is often not possible to know how a child ‘caught’ a wart. However, it has long been felt that public swimming pools are a source of plantar warts.

Treatment of warts is not always easy and treatment failures, or recurrences, are common. Many can be left alone, but if the affected person is getting pain, or becoming self-conscious about the appearance of warts, treatment may be advised.

Cryotherapy (exposure to extreme cold) is one of the effective treatments for common warts. This is usually provided by liquid nitrogen or carbon dioxide ‘snow’. It can be painful, which makes it a difficult treatment to give to small children.

Various ointments and paints are available which will destroy the thickened skin of warts. These may need to be applied daily and for quite some time. It is important to remember that most warts will disappear on their own. If they are not causing problems, getting rid of them is not always worth the pain and inconvenience involved.

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