What are warts and verrucas?
Warts and verrucas are harmless growths on the skin. They're most common on the hands and feet, but they can grow on any part of the body. Common warts look a little bit like cauliflowers.
About 50% disappear within two years without any need for treatment however, they are very contagious and to prevent them from spreading, you should treat them immediately and avoid direct skin contact.
What causes warts and verrucas?
Warts are caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). It causes skin cells to multiply rapidly, resulting in benign growths that are more embarrassing than serious, but which are very contagious. There are over 70 different subtypes of HPV which cause warts and verrucas. Different types of the virus tend to cause warts on different parts of the body. The virus is spread by direct skin contact or by touching moist surfaces, such as floors in swimming pools and changing rooms, which have been in contact with someone who has warts or verrucas.
After the initial contact, the HPV virus may remain inactive or latent in the skin, and there may not be any symptoms that are immediately visible. This means that many people may have HPV without ever knowing it. It can take several months for a wart or verruca to develop.
Warts and verrucas usually occur when there is an opening in the skin which coincides with the time that the person catches HPV, or in skin that is exposed to excessive moisture such as sweaty feet. An opening in the skin can be caused by cuts, scrapes, shaving, biting fingernails and cuticles, cracked skin and eczema.
Who is at risk?
Scientists estimate that about one in ten people have warts or verrucas at any one time and that one in four of us has at least one wart or verruca at some point in our lives. Warts and verrucas are the most common skin complaint after acne.
Although we're all exposed to HPV, some people seem to be more susceptible to it, while others are naturally resistant. Warts and verrucas can appear more often if the body's immune/defence system is weak. Children and teenagers are particularly likely to be affected, as they have not (yet) built up antibodies to the virus and have more frequent contact with other wart and verruca carriers. 53% of people with warts or verrucas are aged between 5 and 19. People taking steroid tablets, or who have conditions that suppress the immune system such as HIV infection, are also more likely to suffer.
More warts and verrucas occur during the summer, due to increased contact during activities such as swimming and other sports.