Warts are skin lesions caused by viruses from the papillomavirus family. They are common in children and young adults. Although they pose no health risk, they are often difficult to eradicate completely and individuals usually get them many times.
- The origins of wartsWarts present as small wheal-like lesions resulting from a localised proliferation of the skin cells. They are due to an infection by human papillomaviruses (HPV), which penetrate the top layers of the skin via a small area of broken skin. They typically occur on the hands or under the feet, but can appear on all parts of the body. Although children and young adults are most commonly affected, warts may occur at any age.
Minor skin wounds render individuals more susceptible to contamination by HPV viruses, for example on pressure points on the soles of the feet, where skin is broken from scratching or shaving, or after small cuts on the hands and knees. It is also common to catch warts by walking barefoot in gyms and at swimming pools.
Although they are harmless, warts are contagious: scratching them can cause new warts to appear by self-contamination. Individuals can also become infected by touching someone else’s wart or by coming into contact with contaminated particles of dead skin that have fallen to the floor.
- The different types of wartsThere are 3 categories of warts:
• Flat warts: these are slightly raised, flat and smooth, yellowish in colour, and often develop in patches or in a linear arrangement. They generally appear on the face, the back of the hands, the arms or the legs.
• Common warts: these are greyish with a rough surface. They form growths that are more or less grainy and rarely measure more than a few millimetres in height. They frequently appear in clusters which may contain several dozen warts. In most cases they are located on the hands and are often painful when they appear around the nails, which they can deform.
• Plantar warts, located on the soles of the feet, they come in two forms:
– Solitary warts, which are deep, painful and completely or partly covered in a thick layer of hard skin with little black dots on its surface.
– Mosaic warts, formed by clusters of small juxtaposed warts. They are superficial and less painful.
- Treating wartsIn most cases, warts disappear spontaneously after a few months: consequently, your doctor might tell you not to treat them. However, if left untreated they can sometimes last several years. What’s more, they are unsightly, contagious and sometimes painful. Therefore, they most often require treatment.
Several treatments can make warts disappear: cryotherapy (local application of liquid nitrogen, which destroys the warts by freezing them), curettage (wart removal), laser, or rubbing off the wart with salicylic acid.
Nevertheless, all of these treatments only have an effect on the visible part of the lesion, and do not attack the cause of it: the virus, which remains in the skin. Reoccurrences are therefore common, and to minimise the risk of the warts reappearing, it is crucial to follow the treatment strictly for its entire duration.