Warts are raised, fleshy skin growths. They’re caused by a viral infection and classified by their location on the body: palmar warts on the hands and plantar warts on the feet.
At Monroe Foot & Ankle Care, podiatric physician and surgeon Dr. Elliott Perel and our team in Jamesburg, New Jersey understand that plantar warts can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, even if they’re not medically dangerous. That’s why we offer a number of treatment options to eliminate the problem. But are warts contagious? Here’s what our expert has to say.
What causes warts?
Plantar warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), though the strains involved aren’t the types that cause genital warts. And while you may develop warts in new locations following the initial infection, they’re not particularly contagious. To spread from person to person, they need a suitable environment.
The virus gains entry to your body through small cuts in the skin of the soles of your feet. Your body weight presses down on the area, causing the entry point to thicken and become callused as the wart grows deeper into the skin. Plantar warts aren’t a threat to your health, but the calluses can be uncomfortable. In addition, the warts may cause some irritation, pain, and/or minor bleeding at the entry point.
So, how do warts spread? Well, HPV loves warm, moist environments, which makes swimming pools and locker rooms fertile breeding grounds. If you walk barefoot in those areas, you risk picking the virus up.
HPV is most likely to cause warts in:
- Children and teenagers (who are less careful about foot care)
- Immunocompromised individuals
- Those who’ve had an HPV infection/warts before
- People going barefoot in locker rooms
Simply wearing protective footwear is enough to prevent HPV from spreading.
Why should you remove warts?
If warts aren’t particularly contagious or medically dangerous, why should you remove them? Because they still negatively affect your podiatric health.
If you have plantar warts, it means you have HPV in your system, and viruses are geniuses when it comes to replicating, even those that aren’t particularly contagious. You may start with just a single, uncomfortable wart, only to find a bunch sprouting up later. And once infected, you’re more vulnerable to becoming reinfected.
Developing clusters of warts may also mean your immune system is somehow compromised and is fueling the infection. Your primary care doctor can determine if you have an underlying immune system condition, so you can get treatment for that.
In addition, warts that are uncomfortable or cause you pain can have serious consequences. It’s natural to want to avoid putting weight on the wart, but shifting your gait alters your body mechanics. That can lead to the development of additional pain in your feet, legs, and even your back. When you remove the warts, you avoid all these problems.
Treating plantar warts
Most warts clear up by themselves, but it can take about two years, which is a long time to wait. Fortunately, Dr. Perel offers several treatment options.
Conservative options include immunotherapy drugs to help your body fight the virus causing the warts; medications like cantharidin (from the blister beetle) that cause the wart to blister and fall off; and salicylic acid applied directly to the wart to dissolve its layers.
Dr. Perel may also recommend custom orthotics. These slip into your shoe and cushion the weight-bearing areas of your foot so you don’t shift your gait.
If conservative treatments don’t work, Dr. Perel can remove your warts surgically in one of three ways:
- An electric needle: destroys the wart base
- Cryotherapy: uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart; it blisters and drops off
- Micro excision: uses a scalpel to cut the wart out without harming surrounding skin
In all cases, Dr. Perel numbs the area first so you don’t feel anything, and he covers the wound to keep the area clean while it heals. Once it does heal, it’s like it never was there at all — there’s barely a scar.
No, plantar warts aren’t very contagious, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them. Monroe Foot & Ankle Care can rid you of them once and for all. To get started, give the office a call at 732-521-6166, or book online with us today.