Warts are viral infections caused by over 100 different strains of the human papillovirus (HPV). HPV is everywhere and can spread from person to person by direct contact. It usually enters the skin through a cut or scratch, then incubates for a few months before developing a wart in that area. If you pick at the wart and then touch broken skin elsewhere on your body, the virus may be transferred to the new site. That’s how you get multiple warts.
Warts usually appear as greyish, cauliflower-like growths. Or, they can be as tiny as a pinhead or slightly larger. Common warts show up just about anywhere, particularly on the hands and feet. Plantar warts grow inward on the soles of the feet and often cause pain on pressure. Flat warts are often found on the arms or face. Genital warts can appear in tiny clusters or spread into a large area in the genital or anal area. “High-risk” HPV strains cause cervical cancer, penile cancer, vulvar cancer and anal cancer. HPV is among the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection or disease. In women, we know that persistent HPV infections (commonly HPV types 16 and 18) are responsible for causing changes in the cervix which often leads to cervical dysplasia or cervical cancer.
There is currently no “cure” for HPV, but if your immune system is working properly, the warts often go away on their own. There are treatments available for visible warts, including liquid nitrogen cryosurgery and gels/ creams containing podophyllotoxin (found naturally in a medicinal herb called Podophyllum peltatum). Two vaccines, Gardasil and Cervarix, are available as a prevention against infections from a few “high-risk” HPV strains that cause cervical/ genital cancers and genital warts. These are targeted at young women and men before they become sexually active. All sexually-active women should get a PAP smear done annually to detect for any abnormal changes in the cervix.