After acne, warts are the most common skin complaint children have – it’s estimated that one school child in 20 has at least one wart or more.
What are warts?
Warts are non-cancerous skin growths which are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The HPV causes the protein in the top layer of the skin to grow too fast, which results in warts on the skin. Once infected by HPV it can take up to a year before a wart will appear.
While HPV is responsible for a variety of warts including genital warts and filiform warts, the most common warts found in children are:
- Common warts: They are skin coloured, rough to the touch, and usually grow around the nails, on fingers or the back of hands, and are often described as looking like tiny cauliflowers.
- Flat warts: Also known as juvenile warts because they are almost exclusively found on children and teenagers, these warts are smooth, skin-coloured and very small – about the size of a pinhead – and often appear in clusters on the face and the backs of the hands.
- Plantar warts: These warts are usually found on the sole of the foot and can be quite painful to live with. Starting out as a small black puncture mark, plantar warts grow inwards which makes them painful to walk on.
Because warts are the result of a virus, it is possible to safeguard against catching warts in the same way you can take precautions against catching a cold. The key to wart prevention is understanding how they are spread so you can avoid exposure.
How warts are spread
The HPV, or wart virus, is spread by direct contact – and being a virus, it prefers moist surfaces where it can breed. All it takes is for someone with warts to shed the virus onto a damp surface – public swimming pool change rooms, gym locker rooms, spas and bathrooms are notorious places to pick up a wart – which is then picked up on the skin. If you have a cut or crack on your skin, the virus can enter and begin to grow.
It is also possible to spread the infection to other parts of your own body. By scratching or picking at warts, you can transmit the virus on your hands.
How to avoid warts
Because HPV thrives in moist environments, the key to avoiding picking up the virus is to keep contact with wet surfaces to a minimum and to keep your skin dry.
To avoid warts, encourage your kids to:
- Wear footwear in public places that have wet environments
- Cover broken skin to protect against contact with the virus
- Resist the urge to pick your warts – and be sure to shave around warts to avoid nicking the growth
- Wash your hands well if you do touch your warts (or other people’s warts)
- Avoid biting your nails – the broken skin around your cuticles can make you particularly vulnerable to a nasty wart variety called periungual, that is hard to get rid of
- Keep feet dry – if you get sweaty feet, try wearing open-toe shoes that will allow your feet to perspire without becoming moist. Perhaps also consider using medicated foot powder to keep them dry.
- Keep wet areas at home clean – if there are warts in the family home, consider wiping down surfaces in the bathroom with a disinfectant that will kill any lurking HPV.