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Warts, also called verrucae, are small benign growths usually caused by a viral infection of the skin or mucous membrane. The virus infects the surface layer of skin. The viruses that cause warts are members of the human papilloma virus (HPV) family, of which there are many different strains. Warts are not cancerous but some strains of HPV, usually not associated with warts, have been linked with cancer formation. Warts are contagious from person to person and from one area of the body to another on the same person.
Particularly common among children, young adults, and women, warts are a problem for 7–10% of the population. There are close to 60 types of HPV that cause warts, each preferring a specific skin location. For instance, some types of HPV cause warts to grow on the skin, others cause them to grow inside the mouth, while still others cause them to grow on the genital and rectal areas. However, most can be active anywhere on the body. The virus enters through the skin and produces new warts after an incubation period of one to eight months. Warts are usually skin colored and feel rough to the touch, but they also can be dark, flat, and smooth.
Warts are passed from person to person, directly and indirectly. Some people are continually susceptible to warts, while others are more resistant to HPV and seldom get them. The virus takes hold more readily when the skin has been damaged in some way, which may explain why children who bite their nails tend to have warts located on their fingers. People who take a medication to suppress their immune system or are on long-term steroid use are also prone to a wart virus infection. The same is true for patients with AIDS.
Hand warts (verruca vulgaris) can grow anywhere on the hands, but usually occur where skin has been damaged in some way (e.g. picking or nail biting). This is a rough horny lesion varying in size from 1 mm–2cm in diameter.
Foot warts (verruca plantaris) known as plantar warts, are the most painful type of wart, due to the pressure exerted on them. They are most common in children and young adults, since they are often contracted in locker rooms and swimming pool areas. If left untreated, they can grow to an inch or more in circumference and spread into clusters. Those suffering from diabetes are more likely to suffer from plantar warts, and may also suffer complications due to the reduced potential for their bodies to heal themselves.
Flat warts tend to grow in great numbers and are smaller and smoother than other warts. They can erupt anywhere, appearing more frequently on the legs of women, the neck and dorsum of the hands, the faces of children, and on the areas of the face that are shaved by young adult males.
Genital warts, also called condylomata acuminata, moist warts, fig warts, or venereal warts, are one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). Genital warts are more contagious than other types of warts. Approximately one million new cases of genital warts are diagnosed in the United States every year. It is estimated that two-thirds of persons coming into contact with genital warts will develop symptoms within three months.
Genital warts tend to be small flat bumps or they may be thin and pointed in shape. They are usually soft, moist, pink to red in color, occurring as a single lesion or in clusters that resemble a cauliflower, and not scaly like other warts. In women, genital warts appear on the external genitalia, within the vagina, on the cervix, and around the anus or within the rectum. In men, genital warts usually appear on the tip of the penis but may also be found on the scrotum or around the anus. Genital warts can also develop in the mouth of a person who has
had oral sexual contact with an infected person. They may also appear, less often, between the toes.
Filiform wart is a long, horny, finger-like projection that is usually found in multiples. Seen most commonly in adult males, they occur in the bearded area of the face or on the eyelids and neck.
Author Info: Patricia Skinner, Rebecca J. Frey PhD, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit, Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine, 2005This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your healthcare provider. Please consult a healthcare professional with any health concerns you may have.
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