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Are Warts Contagious?

What is a wart?

A wart is a small growth with a rough texture that can resemble a solid blister or a small cauliflower. Human papillomaviruses (HPV) cause warts, which can grow on any part of the skin. Some HPV types are associated with the development of malignancy. Many warts resolve spontaneously after a few years.

What should I know about the various types of warts? Where do warts grow?

Common warts (body warts) develop in fingers and toes. They are rough, firm, and raised. Plantar warts develop mainly on the soles of feet, heels, and toes. They grow inward as a dark spot surrounded by white hard tissue. Flat warts grow as flat pinkish or yellow-brown spots on sun-exposed skin surfaces. Filiform warts are skin-colored flaps or elongated tags on the eyelids, nose, neck, and armpits. Periungual warts grow around or under toes and fingers, are raised, and may hinder nail growth. Genital warts are pink or reddish and look similar to cauliflower and form in clusters of three to four warts.

Are warts painful?

Most warts are not painful, but periungual warts can be very painful. Plantar warts can cause foot discomfort when walking, and genital warts may cause mild pain, itching, and some bleeding.

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Are warts contagious? How do warts spread?

Viruses that cause warts are contagious, most frequently by direct skin-to-skin contact, especially if the skin is damaged or cut. It's possible to spread the virus to other parts of your own skin. You also can get them indirectly from contaminated surfaces like a gym mat or shower floor.

What is the incubation period for warts?

The estimated incubation period for genital warts varies from two weeks to eight months. Some warts remain dormant for years.

When should I contact a medical caregiver about warts?

Most people do not need a medical caregiver to evaluate most warts or even to treat them. Some people want them removed for cosmetic reasons. However, a medical professionals should examine genital warts, as some may become cancerous.

What over-the-counter (OTC) drugs get rid of warts fast?

People may apply over-the-counter topical salicylic acid treatments to warts; this OTC treatment has a reported 70%-80% cure rate.

Is there a cure for warts?

Topical agents like salicylic acid are effective, and other agents like podophyllin (Podocon-25), imiquimod (Aldara, Zyclara), cidofovir (Vistide), and others get rid of warts. Medical professionals may consider intralesional injections and even surgical removal (excision, cauterization, laser, or cryo- and/or electrosurgery) for persistent warts. Systemic drugs like cimetidine, retinoids, and IV cidofovir provide variable results. The HPV vaccine can prevent the formation of about 90% of genital warts.

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Reviewed on 2/26/2019
References
Shenfelt, P. "Nongenital Warts." Medscape.com. June 5, 2018. <https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/1133317-overview>.

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