What are Warts?

Warts are outcroppings of the skin caused by the human papilloma virus. Warts are generally harmless, but are frequently a nuisance; this is compounded by their viral and therefore contagious nature. It is possible and quite easy to catch warts from others. Warts frequently take the form of plain round blisters, generally hemispherical and more pronounced than other blemishes like zits, and are also known to take on a cauliflower-like shape, making them nearly resemble a fungus.

Warts are associated in fiction with toads and witches, sometimes interchangeably, sometimes interrelatedly. In truth, however, there is no true link between toads and warts; this misconception, common though it is, is nothing more than a myth. This myth likely stems from the bumpy nature of toad skin, that many believe resembles warts, but in truth, toads are not even susceptible to the human papilloma virus that causes warts.

Who gets Warts?

Everyone is vulnerable to warts, but a few individuals are more vulnerable than others. The human papilloma virus is very widespread, and there are over a hundred separate strains. Because warts are viral in nature, they are contagious, and this intuits much about who is most vulnerable to warts.

First and foremost, anyone who is exposed to people on a regular basis is going to be more vulnerable to contracting the human papilloma virus, and by extension, develop a case of warts. This is compounded by anyone who frequently does physical labor with a risk of injury; warts are most easily developed when the skin is broken and exposed to a carrier of the human papilloma virus. Simple person-to-person exposure is the easiest way to get warts, and thus, the more social an individual the more likely they are to contract the human papilloma virus.

In addition to interpersonal exposure, individuals who are immunocompromised or otherwise in possession of a weaker immune system are more likely to suffer from warts. The reason for this is simple: the human papilloma virus can be fought by the immune system. With so many very different forms of the virus, it is not uncommon to come in contact with more than one, and immunity to one does not necessarily imply immunity to all. Thus, individuals with weaker immune systems are far more likely to contract the human papilloma virus and develop a case of warts following this.

While individuals with weakened immune systems are more likely to contract warts to begin with, they are also more likely to suffer from subsequent cases of warts; warts may remit and recur frequently, like many other ailments. After one deals with human papilloma virus infection and a case of warts, they may shake their warts only to have them return again at a later date: this is because the virus still resides in the body, albeit not in the same force as it began. Any fluctuations in the immune system at this point can play a major role in whether or not warts manifest.

Children are more vulnerable to warts for the simple reason that their immune systems have not come into contact with the same factors as many adult immune systems. This leaves them much weaker to resist various forms of infection. In addition to the very young, the very old are similarly vulnerable: T-cell production declines in older individuals, and the immune system generally declines in its effectiveness. There are a number of individuals between these ages who are similarly vulnerable, of course, particularly individuals with primary conditions that weaken the immune system; warts are common in individuals that suffer from HIV/AIDS. Anyone taking drugs that suppress the immune system will be similarly more vulnerable to warts. This includes corticosteroids among others.

What causes Warts?

Warts are caused by the human papilloma virus. There are well over one hundred strains of the human papilloma virus and a large percentage of them are associated with warts. Most of them overlap, and multiple kinds of human papilloma virus will be associated with the same wart.

There are a number of myths about the causes of warts that are unfortunately pervasive even in the information age. Among them are that various animals spread warts; they do not, as a rule. Toads are the most commonly-accused creatures, as they possess bumpy skin that some people believes resembles warts. Others point fingers at frogs, primarly because they are associated with toads as amphibians, and others then extend this to salamandars, lizards and a host of other creatures. While many animals incuding these can carry a number of extremely terrible infections to be avoided, they do not cause warts. Further associations with warts involve superstition, with some claiming that particular sorts of bad moods can bring them about. The association of warts with witches is mostly ancient and firmly in the realm of fiction now.

In truth, the only true cause is human papilloma virus exposure, and this requires human contact. Humans are the primary carriers of the human papilloma virus, and warts spread most commonly from person to person. However, simple human to human contact is usually not enough to bring about a case of warts. Simple exposure to the virus is generally repelled by the skin, the first line of immune defense. The human papilloma virus requires fluid or membrane contact to communicate, specifically through squamous tissue. Squamous tissue is much, much thinner than the rest of the skin. Most of the ‘wet’ tissue in the body, including that of the mouth and genitals, is squamous; the liquid secretions associated with these areas are primarily there as a form of defense against dryness and dehydration, much in the way the sealed nature of the skin is.

Contact with the skin is not sufficient for contraction. There is a common myth that contact with the warts themselves spreads the virus, but this is not true—there are similar myths around the chickenpox and the varicella zoster virus. In the case of the chickenpox, it seems like the chickenpox marks themselves are spreading the virus, but in truth the virus is airborne and spread by fluid contact. In the case of the human papilloma virus, wart contact is insufficient to cause infection. What is required, instead, is fluid contact.

Contact with broken skin is the most common vector of infection. A scraped knuckle or a paper cut is more than sufficient to leave the body exposed, but there are other means as well. However, any other form of appropriate contact through the squamous membranes may also be held responsible. Sexual intercourse is perhaps the most obvious consequence of this, and this is exemplified most explicitly through genital warts. In addition to sexual intercourse, any sort of mouth contact may leave an individual vulnerable.

Once the virus has successfully infiltrated the body, it is simply a matter of it replicating, propagating and spreading. Warts tend to stay in one area, generally close to the site of infection.

What do Warts cause?

Warts can cause a handful of symptoms during their tenure. The initial and defining symptom and sign of warts is the presence of warts themselves. Warts generally manifest in one of a few different ways.

Perhaps the most common form of wart is a simple hemisphere of swollen, blistered skin. The wart will raise itself up in a half-sphere filled with fluid. The stretched skin will generally show pruritis, or redness. This is the type of wart most commonly displayed in fiction and elsewhere and is what most forms of wart treatment are geared toward curing.

Following the hemispherical wart is a series of eruptions that more closely resemble a fungus. Many compare this sort of wart to a cauliflower, as the discoloration of the skin with these tends to be paler than that of other warts, and the texture is similar to the head of the vegetable.

Both of these kinds of warts are generally painful. Because the skin is stretched how it is, the nerves in the local area are usually agitated. This is simple math, of course, but even when pain is not an issue, it generally becomes one when the wart makes contact with something else. Just as with any eruption of the skin, even if it can be passively ignored, it cannot be ignored once it is bumped, scraped or anything else.

Many warts will itch in addition to hurting. This is not always the case, and the itch is not always as intense as in some other skin ailments known primarily for their itchy nature, like chickenpox or other ailments. Even so, warts do have a tendency to itch more than, say, acne. This is a result of the body’s immune response to the presence of the wart. The itching is generally dull, but in some cases can grow more severe; this itching is troublesome as it tends to reside under the skin and the wart itself, where various anti-itch agents are relatively ineffective.

Warts, in addition to causing these symptoms, have a strong tendency to cause more warts. This is not the fairest approximation: the warts themselves are not responsible for the spread of warts to others. Even so, the human papilloma virus that causes warts is more than a little contagious and more than a little widespread. There is no denying that warts are a sign of contagious ailment, even if they are not themselves directly contagious at the site of the outcropping.

These, notably, are only the most common symptoms for all forms of warts, specifically common warts. There are many, many more kinds of warts that individuals may be susceptible to. All of them are unique and defined by how different they are from the others. Thus, this should not be taken as a full approximation of what all warts can do.

What does Wart treatment look like?

Treatment for warts varies widely based on budget, necessity and the type of wart in question. There are a number of perfectly valid treatment options and a number of home remedies of various degrees of efficacy. In any case, the first mode of treatment is always prevention. An ounce of prevention can be worth more than a pound of cure!

Prevention of warts of all kinds starts with simple caution. Warts are contagious. This means that the simplest way to avoid warts is to avoid unsafe fluid contact with other individuals that have warts. This may seem overtly obvious at first, but it takes a bit of thought. There are a number of implications here.

The first is handwashing. While handwashing is raised in a number of other fields for a number of other reasons, there is a good reason for this: washing one’s hands can greatly reduce the odds of contracting anything, not just warts. This is because bacteria and viruses, like the viruses that cause warts, can reside and survive for a period of time without being fully transmitted.

As a for-instance, shaking hands with someone with a wart will not immediately communicate warts. This should be relatively obvious. However, shaking hands with someone with a wart that is exuding any kind of material, even the tiniest amount, or shaking hands with someone who did not previously wash their hands and has traces of saliva or less pleasant things on their skin can leave one open to spreading the virus by any number of means—rubbing one’s eyes would be enough at that point, as would eating, as would touching any vulnerable area of one’s body. This is why regular handwashing is so critical: hands can move things where they would be better off not being.

This holds especially true when dealing with a large number of people, and individuals with warts. If one is intimate with someone who is suffering from warts, this becomes even more true, because the period of exposure is simply that much higher and that much more regular and that much more common, and thus the risk of contracting warts goes up.

This is before any risk of direct fluid contact comes up. Regarding romantic partners, it is always important to watch where one’s mouth goes and where it has been; the human papilloma virus perhaps most easily sneaks past the defenses in the mouth. This becomes even more critically true with sexual intercourse. Practicing safe sex is always crucial, but this becomes even more important when an individual is suffering from any symptoms of the human papilloma virus. Even if someone is not suffering from a case of specific genital warts, sexual intercourse greatly increases the risk of infection for healthy individuals.

Aside from general means of caution, there are other factors of prevention available. There exists a human papilloma virus vaccine that has been recorded as being effective, but it only functions for the strains of the virus that are responsible for genital warts. It is prescribed primarily for the prevention of human papilloma virus as it can relate to cervical cancer, which is very strongly linked to infections of genital warts. There does not yet exist a vaccine that can prevent common warts or any other form of human papilloma virus infection, although this may change in the future.

For individuals that are already suffering from warts, there are a number of options available.

The first option that generally springs to the fore is the application of salicylic acid. Salicylic acid is used for a number of skin care solutions, and in many ways it could be thought of as the WD-40 or duct tape of skin treatment. Salicylic acid is effective in three out of four cases of warts, and can out and out destroy them in one go in some circumstances. Salicylic acid dries warts up and effectively kills them, which allows them to be sloughed off easily.

Salicylic acid is frequently available over the counter in various concentrations. There are a number of products using salicylic acid as an active ingredient that are explicitly sold for this purpose.

There are a number of other options, however, many of them available only by prescription. Many of the options available for warts are very expensive; there are a number of reasons for this. One reason is simply that all forms of anti-viral treatment have a tendency to be expensive.

Among them are, first, Imiquimod. Imiquimod is a topical agent that causes the body to produce more interferon. Interferons are a kind of protein that allow the body to communicate with its various components. More interferon in the system translates to faster communication and a more rapid destruction of invading pathogens—the use of this is obvious. Unfortunately, Imiquimod is very, very expensive, reserving it for severe cases of warts. As of now it is approved only for genital warts.

Other experimental drugs exist, as well, including some that are applied directly to the skin. However, the nature of warts as skinborne symptoms mean that caution is required to keep from damaging the skin around the wart in the process of destroying it.

More severe cases of warts may require a form of surgery to remove. Said surgeries are not invasive, and some of them are available at health spas, rather than in doctor’s offices. Some are even available over the counter.

The first and most common form of surgery for wart removal is cryosurgery. Cryosurgery is a relatively simple procedure that involves exposing the wart to extreme cold. When this is performed by a doctor, this generally means that liquid nitrogen is used. Nitrogen exists in the atmosphere in a very high concentration, and consists of much of what the planet breathes on a daily basis. As consequence, it has to get very, very cold for it to condense into a liquid form. Thus, liquid nitrogen can easily destroy warts on contact. Liquid nitrogen would also be quite damaging to the skin if it were used improperly, however, which is why this procedure can only be performed by a trained medical professional with the appropriate equipment and environment. Over the counter solutions exist for wart removal in this fashion however, as well, and these are much more affordable, but are frequently difficult to use on small warts, and not effective for severe warts. These treatments use an endothermic chemical reaction that, when activated on the wart, rapidly leeches all of the warmth out of it. All forms of cryosurgery kill the wart and allow it to fall off harmlessly. Cryosurgery frequently takes more than one treatment, however, sometimes up to a dozen.

Laser therapy is a relatively new treatment option for warts, but it has taken of in popularity as it has grown progressively more affordable and recognized for its efficacy. Laser therapy is almost exactly what it sounds like. Rather than using extreme cold to burn the wart away, laser therapy uses a laser to destroy the composing cells. This functions in roughly the same manner as the others. It can be more expensive, and obviously cannot be done without the aid of a professional.

There are two primary forms of laser therapy. One of them involves a CO2 laser that simply burns away at the tissue of the wart. This is effective, but can lead to blistering and scarring. This is because the laser in question acts primarily on the water in the body itself, which, while effective, is also an effective method of destruction. The more modern method is the use of pulse dye lasers. Pulse dye lasers do not act on the water, but rather specific chemicals in the body—in this case hemoglobin. This makes the damage it inflicts much more selective.

While the risk of scarring is higher with lasers, a single treatment may be effective, and usually not more than four are required.

Electrodessication is a form of surgery that involves passing a current through the wart. This helps to dry it out and accelerate its destruction, but is not as widely practiced as cryosurgery or laser surgery.

While there are a number of effective treatments on the market, they all carry the same major caveat: not all wart treatments will keep warts away indefinitely. Wart removal therapies do not actually take care of the human papilloma virus that causes their growth.

How do I know if I have Warts?

Warts can be easily diagnosed at a glance. Their symptoms are easily recognizable and difficult to mistake, at least as far as common warts go. For other forms of warts, a more specific appraisal may need to be done by a medical professional. In these cases it is important to see a medical professional as soon as possible to better understand what kind of wart is on the table and what the risks of infection are to others.

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