AUG 23, 2017 5:47 AM PDT

What are Warts, Anyway?

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham

Warts are unsightly and sometimes even painful. We typically associate warts with disease and contagion, a belief perpetuated by popular folklore in stories of witches, ogres, and similar wicked characters. In reality, warts can appear on anyone, anywhere.

The culprit behind the bumpy, hardened skin protrusions is viral. Specifically, warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). This is the same virus that causes genital warts, a sexually transmitted infection. On other skin surfaces, different strains of HPV can cause different types of warts with varying appearances. And because the warts are viral in nature, it can be spread to other parts of the body, as well as to other people through close skin-to-skin contact.

Fortunately, most warts on the hands and feet can clear up without treatment, although the time it takes to heal can vary from a few weeks to several years. If you can't wait years, try some over-the-counter (OTC) treatments. One OTC option involves freezing the wart cells, which forces the site to scab and hopefully fall off.

To prevent warts from appearing on your body, practice careful hygiene, especially around people with warts. This includes avoiding the sharing of common personal items, such as shoes, towels, and clippers.
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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