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Medical Dermatology Conditions

Viral Warts

What Are Viral Warts?

Viral warts are growths on the skin due to an infection on the top layer of skin caused by viruses in the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) family, of which 130 types are currently known. They usually appear as rough bumps with tiny dark dots, and can grow on any part of the skin. Warts are mostly painless, unless they are located on pressure areas such as the soles. While they usually occur on the hands and feet they can also affect other locations, with some warts growing on genitals. Though unsightly, warts are not cancerous and very common, with most people being infected at some point in their life.

However, if you have ano-genital warts, it is advisable to seek medical attention and for women to get a Pap smear test done. Studies show that there is an increased risk of vulvar, vaginal, cervical and penile cancers for those hospitalised with genital warts.

acne on face

Causes of Viral Warts

The most common way for someone to get a viral wart is through skin-to-skin contact with someone who already has it. As warts are a visible symptom of HPV, you can get infected with the virus by other means such as contact with inanimate objects like doorknobs, used towels, meat etc. You can also get infected in a public shower if someone who has the virus made use of the shower facilities before you. If you have skin conditions such as eczema, or if your skin has been damaged slightly with a cut or abrasion, then the virus is more likely to infect you, causing warts to appear on your skin. Viral warts can appear on your skin even months after you first come into contact with HPV.

Children get skin warts much more often than adults, most likely because their immune systems are not as fully developed as adults to defend against the numerous HPV strains and because they are far more likely to have cuts and abrasions.

Types and Symptoms of Viral Warts

There are several types of viral warts, mostly named for the areas of the body they grow on. Here are some of them:

Type of Viral WartSymptom of Viral Wart
Common WartRaised wart with roughened surface, most common on hands
Flat WartSmall flesh coloured and flattened wart commonly found on the face, neck, hands, wrists and knees
Digitate WartCommon on face, especially near eyelids and lips
Genital WartOccurs on the ano-genital area (anus, penis, vulva)
Mosaic WartCluster of warts commonly found on hands and soles of feet
Plantar WartHard, sometimes painful wart usually found on soles of feet
Periungual WartCluster of warts around the nails

Treatments for Viral Warts

Although easier said than done, prevention of warts can be done by avoiding coming into contact with the Papilloma Virus. Wash your hands thoroughly and regularly. Do not share towels in the gym and make sure you always have a fresh towel when you exercise. Wear slippers in the gym and shower areas so the soles of your feet are protected. When shaving, be sure to use a sharp razor that would allow you to remove your hair without cutting the skin. Be careful and avoid getting cuts or abrasions. If you do, disinfect the areas immediately.

If you have viral warts, they can be treated by a variety of methods, including cryotherapy (freezing with liquid nitrogen), application of topical medications, excision, electrocautery and laser ablation. Bear in mind that all these treatment modalities are aimed at visible wart removal alone, and do not necessarily the removal of the HPV infection itself. To effectively treat the infection itself and prevent the recurrence of viral warts from the same infection, topical imiquimod can be applied.

This acts against warts via an activation of the immune response after a wart removal procedure such as Carbon Dioxide (CO2) laser treatment has been used to destroy visible warts.

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