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Everyone has heard of warts, but few people actually know what causes them. A wart is simply a topical manifestation of a virus, meaning a virus under the skin pushes its way to the skin cells (epidermis) and causes a reaction. The reason the virus does this is so it can replicate – this is why warts and other topical manifestations like cold sores are contagious. The virus itself is a part of the human papillomavirus family. Viruses in the papillomavirae family are spread through skin contact or via fomites (inanimate objects on which viruses can live for a short time such as towels, clothes and utensils).

Warts are non cancerous growths that are rough to the touch. Some warts are hard and smooth while others have a ‘cauliflower’ shape to them. Most warts range from skin color to dark in hue, their color and appearance depending on the type of wart and where they grow.

Types of Warts and their Symptoms

There are many types of warts. In this article, we discuss the more common types including ‘common warts’, ‘Plantar warts’ and ‘flat warts.’

‘Common warts’ are mostly found on the fingers and hands. In many cases, a common wart can be present for months or years if untreated. Typically a wart will for where the skin has been broken; a cut on the finger, an irritated hangnail, etc. Even if a common wart is removed, it can recur in the same spot over and over again (see recurring warts below). Common warts are usually skin color, relatively smooth and hard to the touch. Common warts can be riddled with little black ‘dots’ which are actually the ends of blood vessels in the wart itself. Common warts usually show as one wart and can be easily treated. In many cases, common warts are not painful unless irritated.

Plantar warts occur on the soles of the feet. They usually manifest on the ‘plantar section’ of the sole of the foot, giving them their name. They are very closely related to common warts with two exceptions: shape and discomfort. Plantar warts tend to be flat; because they are located on the soles of the feet, they are literally flattened by the constant weight of walking and standing. Additionally, because of their location, they can be much more painful than a common wart and are equivalent to walking around all day with a small rock in your shoe. Plantar warts can manifest in small groups of warts or simply as one Plantar wart.
Flat warts, on the other hand, manifest in groups. Typically, 20-100 can grow at any one time. Flat warts are small and smooth compared to other warts. They can typically appear where adults shave; on the cheeks, chin and neck for men, and on the legs for women. In children, flat warts are most common on the face area, causing stress in the child.

Warts Transmission

Now that you know what warts are, the next question is – how did I get a wart to begin with? Do I have HPV? Yes, if you have a wart, you have been infected by a form of the HPV virus. It is important to understand that HPV is a very common virus and can manifest in many different ways with the warts discussed in this article being just a few. Further, many people who have HPV identified in their cells never show symptoms. As yet, it is unclear if the Human Papillomavirus can be eventually cured, or if it simply remains in a dormant state until the immune system is compromised.

When a person gets a wart, the wart itself is contagious. A wart is very much like a cold sore (Herpes Simplex Virus 1) in the sense that the internal virus (HPV or HSV1) manifests topically (wart or cold sore) for the sole intention of replicating and spreading to other hosts. Thus, just a like a cold sore, a wart is ‘contagious’. Warts, and HPV can be transmitted through direct skin contact or through fomites. An example of fomite contraction would be using a hand towel directly after another person who has a visible wart. HPV can live on certain inanimate objects for short periods of time, and thus can be transferred as such. Typically, the person being subjected to HPV will usually contract it much easier if they have a break in the skin where contact occurs.

Recurring Warts

With the explanation of wart transmission, we can now see how warts can recur, especially in the same spot over and over. When a wart is present, it is contagious. If the wart is not fully removed, or not removed in a preferable manner, (see treatment below), the wart can easily re-grow through replication. If your wart is constantly recurring, it is best to see a dermatologist for removal who will make sure the entire wart is removed properly. In addition to recurring warts, a wart’s contagious properties also accounts for ‘child’ warts or smaller warts appearing close to a larger wart (parent wart). The wart is simply spreading to other parts of the skin in it’s vicinity.

Warts Treatment

Many treatment methods have been discovered over the years, some being more effective than others. Prevalent treatments are usually called ‘burning’ or ‘freezing’. When attempting to treat a wart, always consult your physician or dermatologist. Using some chemical treatments for facial warts can have damaging side effects. It is also important to note that treatment for genital warts is not the same as common, Plantar or flat warts, and should not be attempted under any circumstances without consultation from your physician or dermatologist. Here are some common wart treatments:
‘Burning’ is actually the use of a laser to literally ‘kill’ the wart and rid it of its ability to spread or to sustain itself. Laser therapy, common for many epidermic lesions, can be rather pricey and requires anesthetics. Another side effect of laser therapy can be mild to moderate scarring.
‘Freezing’ (cryotherapy) refers to the use of liquid nitrogen which is applied to the wart. Anesthesia is not needed for this procedure, however multiple ‘freezing’ sessions may be needed to completely heal or kill the wart.

Salicylic Acid is the active ingredient in Compound W. Salicylic acid must be applied repeatedly for days or weeks. Sometimes, if the wart does not regress on its own, you will need to use pumice or an emery board to gently file away the dead portions of wart over time.

Natural treatments are becoming very popular in contemporary medicinal techniques are becoming accepted in mainstream medicine. The obvious benefits of natural treatments that work are literally no negative side effects and in most cases some positive ones. There are many natural treatments available to consumers and because warts are generally harmless, trying a natural remedy can be appropriate in many circumstances.
It is important to mention that although genital warts are not treated the same as common warts, some natural treatments, due to their inherent healing nature, are safe for both common warts and genital warts. Always read labels very carefully, verify the credibility of the product manufacturer and consult a physician if you are unsure.


American Academy of Dermatology:

American Academy of Family Physicians:

U.S. National Library of Medicine:

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