Virus That Causes Warts Can Be Passed To Others
Dawn Davis, M.D., Mayo Clinic
DEAR MAYO CLINIC:
If I don't treat the wart on my hand, is it true that it could cause other warts or spread to other people?
Yes, warts can spread if left untreated, and the virus that causes warts can be passed to another person. By adulthood, though, most people have developed immunity to the viruses that cause warts. Therefore, it's unlikely that an adult would develop warts as a result of contact with a person who has a wart. Children are more susceptible, however, because their bodies are less likely to have built up immunity to the virus.
Warts are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV). This virus is very common, and people are exposed to it almost continuously. The virus has more than 100 types -- the reason there are so many different types of warts. Some strains of HPV are acquired through sexual contact. Most forms, however, are spread by casual contact or indirectly through shared objects, such as towels or washcloths.
Over time, people develop immunity to most types of HPV that cause common warts; their bodies are no longer affected by the virus, and it can't take hold and grow. But it takes a long time for that to happen. As a result, warts are widespread in children and young adults because their bodies haven't yet had enough time to become immune to this common virus.
When HPV does take hold, it grows a lump of thickened skin. That's the wart. The skin on a wart will shed over time, just as normal skin sheds. That skin, when shed, carries the virus with it. If someone touches the shed skin -- whether directly through skin-to-skin contact or indirectly, for example, through a towel, the floor of a swimming pool or a carpet, then the virus could spread. But infection occurs only if, first, the skin can be penetrated through a crack, scrape or some other opening, and, second, the person has not developed immunity to HPV.
Once a wart begins to grow, HPV stimulates the skin to attract and grow its own blood supply and nerves, which makes the wart very hearty and less likely to go away on its own. If left untreated, most warts will persist for one to two years. Eventually, though, the body will recognize the virus and fight it off, causing the wart to disappear. While they remain, however, warts can spread very easily when people pick at them or when they are on the hands, feet or face.
Small warts that are not bothersome don't require treatment. They're harmless and will eventually go away. If you don't want to wait or if a wart is causing discomfort, over-the-counter remedies, such as salicylic acid, are available to treat warts.
For larger, painful warts or for those that don't respond to over-the-counter treatment, a dermatologist can offer additional options. Commonly, these include prescription antiviral creams, prescription therapies that irritate and eliminate warts, and medications that stimulate the immune system or disrupt the wart's skin cell growth. Rarely, stubborn warts require minor surgery to cut away the tissue or laser surgery to remove the wart.
If you are an adult who never had problems with warts but they suddenly begin to develop, see your doctor and ask to be screened for an immune system disorder. Adults usually don't have new-onset, common warts. But if numerous warts begin to appear, the immune system may be malfunctioning. In that case, a prompt evaluation is recommended.
Medical Edge from
Available at Amazon.com:
- Kids' Health Ailments Adults Can Get Too
- Stressed? Listen to Your Body!
- Virus That Causes Warts Can Be Passed To Others
- Broken Bones Can Lead to Fat Embolism Syndrome
- Tummy Troubles? Try Exercise for Stomach Pain
- Metabolic Syndrome: Are You At Risk?
- Thorough Evaluation Required to Determine Cause of Daily Headache
- Rare Disorder Affecting Blood Vessels Requires Specialty Care
- Elevated Heart Rate Most Likely Caused by Medical Condition
- FDA Limits Prescription Acetaminophen
- Chronic Bronchitis Causes and Treatment
- Several Factors to Consider Before Taking Calcium Supplements
- Blood Disorder Causes Body to Make Too Many Red Blood Cells
- Colon Cancer Symptoms Similar in Different Age Groups
- The Shingles Vaccine: Would You Use It?
- Cold Feet That Aren't Cold to the Touch May Indicate Neurologic Problem
- Is It Alzheimer's?
- Preventing Stroke: You Can Change Some Factors That Increase Your Risk
- Stomach Muscles Working Incorrectly Can Lead to Gastroparesis
- Chronic Acid Reflux May Lead to Barrett's Esophagus For Some
- Insulin Toppled As Ruler of Diabetes
- Diet Does Play a Role in the Development of Some Forms of Arthritis
- ADD Begins in Childhood But Can Continue Into Adulthood
- Possible Risk Associated With Taking Vitamin E Supplements
- Keeping Cancer From Coming Back: Should Survivors Take Supplements?
- Disease of the Bile Ducts May Lead to Liver Damage or Failure
- When Discovered Early Whipple's Disease Can Often Be Treated With Antibiotics
- Is Anterior Hip Replacement Better?
- Self-Care Steps Can Help Keep Blood Pressure in Normal Range
- Overcoming Insomnia: Lifestyle Changes, Medication, Psychotherapy Can Help
- Monitoring Cholesterol Valuable Way to Assess Ongoing Risk of Heart Disease
- What Can I Do About Blepharitis?
- Stay Healthy With Smart Contact Lenses
- Symptoms Could be Caused by Allergy Related to Snowy Weather
- Update From the Common Cold Front
- The Dangers of Prediabetes
- Got Gas?
- The Headache Trigger You Haven't Considered
- Dental Pain? Try Acupuncture
- What Could Dreams About Teeth Mean?
- Stop Achy Feet Now
- Erectile Dysfunction Could Be Early Indicator of Heart Disease
- The Obesity-Cancer Connection: Hormones and Chemicals in Fat Can Set the Stage
- Are You Diabetic? 6 Tips That Will Keep You Out of the Hospital
- Tips to Manage Blood Sugar
- Health Hints for Cold Weather: As the Seasons Change, So Does Air Quality
- What to Do About Dry Skin In Winter
- What Can You Tell Me About Surgery for Vertebral Fractures?
- Several Possible Causes Could be Source of Hand Tremors
- Variety of Factors Influence Breast Cancer Screening Schedule
- Low White Blood Cell Count Not Always a Sign of Medical Problem
- Endoscopic Ultrasound Produces Detailed Images From Deep Within the Body
- Are Those Canker Sores or Cancer?
- Step Away From the Scale
- Is Tap Water Better?
- Dreary Days Got You Down? Beat the Winter Blues
Copyright © 2011 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research