Warts are a common skin condition that can occur anywhere on the body. They come in a variety of shapes, colors, and sizes and their appearance may be rough and bumpy or flat and smooth. Sometimes they grow singly, at other times, in clusters. Though usually harmless, certain types of warts such as genital warts may indicate a more serious health problem that should be addressed by a physician. People vary in their susceptibility to warts. Children and older people tend to have the highest rates of infection, primarily due to their inability to care for themselves. Though no one can prevent warts completely, being aware of their cause and learning how to change personal habits will help lessen the chances of developing them.
Warts are actually formed by the human papilloma virus, or HPV. The virus can live without effect on the surface of the skin for a long time but when the skin is broken the virus will enter the body where it can infect the skin cells. The virus causes the cells to multiply rapidly and grow abnormally. The type of wart that develops often depends on the environment. For example, the particular HPV that causes plantar warts prefers moist, warm environments such as locker and shower rooms. As a result, people can come into contact with the virus by being in such an environment without even realizing they have been infected. In addition, the virus can easily be transmitted through touch or use of personal items like razors or towels, so it is possible for warts to appear at other locations on the body from the original site of infection. In the same ways, warts can also be contagious to other people.
Depending on the type of wart, it can take a long while before it becomes visible, though some types may be evident rather quickly. Symptoms for warts will also vary. Typically, most flat and round warts will not cause pain. But these common warts on the face, hands and arms can be a nuisance and look unsightly, causing irritation and embarrassment for some people. Other warts, such as plantar warts which grow on the bottom of the foot, can be quite painful. When warts become too painful to tolerate, show evidence of infection, or continue growing and spreading despite home treatments, a physician should be consulted.
Avoiding contact with the active virus is the most effective method of prevention. This can best be accomplished by being aware of how warts are spread and watching your personal habits. Some good rules for prevention include:
- avoiding touching warts on yourself or others
- cleaning your personal items thoroughly, including razors, towels, clothes, bedding, etc.
- refusing to share personal items with others
- limiting being barefoot in warm, moist environments
- changing your socks frequently and keeping your feet dry
- taking care of any areas of broken skin immediately
- resisting biting cuticles or fingernails
- covering existing warts with athletic tape or band-aids.
By following these recommended prevention techniques, the likelihood of developing or being reinfected with warts is greatly reduced.