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Verrucae

Warts and Verrucas

Warts are usually harmless, but may be unsightly. Warts on the feet are called verrucas and are sometimes painful. Warts and verrucas usually clear in time without treatment. If required, they can often be cleared more quickly with treatment. For example, by applying salicylic acid, or by freezing with liquid nitrogen or a cold spray, or by covering with tape.

What are warts and verrucas?

  • Warts are small rough lumps on the skin. They are caused by a virus (human papillomavirus) which causes a reaction in the skin. Warts can occur anywhere on the body but occur most commonly on hands and feet. They range in size from 1 mm to over 1 cm. Sometimes only one or two warts develop. Sometimes several occur in the same area of skin. The shape and size of warts vary, and they are sometimes classed by how they look. For example: common warts, plane (flat) warts, filiform (finger-like) warts, mosaic warts, etc.

  • Verrucas are warts that occur on the soles of the feet. They are the same as warts on any other part of the body. However, they may look flatter, as they tend to get trodden in.

Who gets warts and verrucas and are they harmful?

Most people develop one or more warts at some time in their life, usually before the age of 20. About 1 in 10 people in the UK has warts at any one time. They are not usually harmful. Sometimes verrucas are painful if they press on a sensitive part of the foot. Some people find their warts unsightly. Warts at the end of fingers may interfere with fine tasks.

Are warts contagious?

Yes, but the risk of passing them on to others is low. You need close skin-to-skin contact. You are more at risk of being infected if your skin is damaged, or if it is wet and macerated, and in contact with roughened surfaces. For example, in swimming pools and communal washing areas.

You can also spread the wart virus to other areas of your body. For example, warts may spread round the nails, lips and surrounding skin if you bite warts on your fingers, or nearby nails, or if you suck fingers with warts on. If you have a poor immune system you may develop lots of warts which are difficult to clear. (For example, if you have AIDS, if you are on chemotherapy, etc.)

  • To reduce the chance of passing on warts to others:

    • Don't share towels.

    • When swimming, cover any wart or verruca with a waterproof plaster.

    • If you have a verruca, wear flip-flops in communal shower rooms and don't share shoes or socks.

  • To reduce the chance of warts spreading to other areas of your body:

    • Don't scratch warts.

    • Don't bite nails or suck fingers that have warts.

    • If you have a verruca, change your socks daily.

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