Technically, a wart is already a skin infection called HPV – human papillomavirus. Unfortunately, skin already infected with HPV can develop what is called a secondary infection as well.
Secondary infections of warts are almost always bacterial. Rarely, they can be fungal as well. Either way, although it’s rare, a secondary infection of your warts is bad news and should never be ignored.
This article will explain what the symptoms of infected warts are, how to prevent these secondary infections, and what you need to do to keep the infection from getting worse.
Table of Contents
When Warts Get Infected
Warts that become infected can redouble the itchy and painful misery of the lesion.
This usually happens when a person:
- picks at the wart with dirty fingernails,
- exposes their wart or wart to dirty surfaces, or
- irritates the skin around the wart during treatment.
This is why it’s important to get help treating the wart if the area is difficult to reach, very small or very widespread.
You may also be more susceptible to secondary infections in your warts if you have a compromised immune system because of HIV, autoimmune problems or simple aging.
This makes secondary infection more of a concern in seborrheic warts, which often occur on aging skin. You can read this article to learn more about seborrheic warts and how to prevent their infection.
Secondary wart infections can be either bacterial or fungal. In both cases, the secondary infection occurs because irritated skin around the wart was more susceptible to another infection.
Signs of secondary infection are:
- increasing pain,
- a hot feeling at or around the wart,
- red streaks around the wart,
- pus, and
If you notice any of these symptoms on or around your wart, you likely have a secondary infection.
Bacterial infections are the most common secondary infections of warts. They usually occur when a wart has been treated with dirty equipment or hands.
The bacterial infection then sets into the irritated skin and adds to the misery. Washing the wart with soap and water thoroughly before treatments helps to prevent this problem. Covering it with a bandage provides even more protection. In all cases, washing hands before and after touching warts isn’t just smart, it’s essential.
Sometimes, a wart and fungal infection can occur at the same time. For instance, we might be unlucky enough to get hit by athlete’s foot and plantar warts simultaneously. This may be what is leading to the myth that warts are caused by contagious or non contagious fungal infections. This is a false myth though. While warts may be more likely to occur in skin that has already been weakened by an infection or cut, it’s impossible to catch a wart without making contact with the HPV virus. So, if we are unlucky enough to have athlete’s foot and plantar warts at the same time, it’s because we made contact with both infections at the same time.
Developing a secondary infection in a wart significantly increases the chances of scarring. If the infection is particularly severe, the skin around the wart may need to be removed as well, resulting in the need for stitches. This is why it’s a very good idea to remove the bandages, wash and inspect the wart every day to check for possible infection. The longer the infection is allowed to fester, the worse any scarring is likely to be.
I Have Infected Warts on Hands
Infected warts on hands are cause for special concern because of the risk of scarring or damaging the delicate tissues of the fingers. If subungual warts (warts around the fingernails) become infected, they can increase the chances of the nail bed to become deformed or even to come off completely. Therefore, make sure to keep the area clean, covered and well cared for until the infection clears up. If fingernails are showing signs of deforming, splitting or coming off, go to the doctor.
Infected Warts on Legs and Feet
Infected warts on legs and feet can become more likely in people who have peripheral artery disease or compromised immune systems. Infection can also enter a wart on the leg through a cut from a razor, so women probably shouldn’t shave the area until the wart has fully resolved.
As stated above, the bottoms of the feet can present a special problem. Any warts on the feet can become susceptible to fungal infection from athlete’s foot. This is also true for warts under toenails. In fact, the fungal infection might actually be present before the warts set in.
Infected foot warts are the type of situation that simply needs to be seen by a doctor. After all, it’s pretty hard to walk with severely painful or infected feet, and this situation can get very excruciating indeed..
Can My Genital Warts Get Infected?
Yes they can, but first, it’s very important to figure out if your infection is actually genital warts. This is because there are several other conditions that look very much like genital warts, but aren’t.
Some of these conditions are:
- moluscum contagiosum, otherwise known as water warts, is a viral infection that looks similar to warts. It’s most common in children but can also appear on adults and does sometimes affect the genital area. To learn more about water warts, read this article;
- condyloma latum, which causes wart-like lesions but is caused by a secondary form of syphilis, not HPV;
- psoriasis, which usually shows up as a dry, red patchy spot but then can progress to wart-like lesions;
- dysplasia, pre-cancerous lesions that may or may not be caused by the HPV virus;
- and cancer, which also may or may not have been caused by HPV.
Even if your doctor is 100% sure that you have a genital HPV infection, they may recommend that a biopsy be done as some vulvar cancers masquerade as HPV. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor will likely recommend one of the more gentle forms of treatment because the area is so sensitive.
These treatments may include:
- Imiquimod, or
- very careful cryosurgery.
Be sure to keep your genital area very clean and absolutely do no try to pick or cut off your genital warts. This will drastically increase your risk of developing a secondary infection. Also, take measures to prevent candida as this can add to the itchy misery. Eat a very balanced diet and see your doctor at the first sign of irritation.
While you are dealing with genital warts, you are much more susceptible to other infections such as HIV and Hepatitis C. Spreading your HPV infection isn’t the only risk you face. Therefore, it is absolutely vital that you abstain from sexual activity until cleared by your doctor. It’s also vital that you use condoms, because HPV can spread even after the symptoms subside.
What About Common Warts?
Yes, even common warts can get infected. You may notice that it is beginning to bleed around the base or ooze pus. When this happens, you should immediately discontinue whatever treatment you are using – even if it is a gentle and natural treatment like apple cider vinegar or duct tape. This is because these gentle treatments add to the irritation and could worsen the infection.
You may be able to wait out the infection in this case if the oozing is not too severe. Simply stopping treatment, applying a little antibiotic ointment and giving it time to heal may be all that is needed. But again, at the first sign of a worsening infection such as red streaks or fever, you must see a doctor. Infections can spread rapidly.
What Should I Know About Infected Warts in Children
Secondary infection is also more likely with warts on kids. This is because children have not yet learned proper hygiene habits or fully developed their immune systems. This is why children are more likely to catch warts in the first place. This is very common and no cause for concern unless the warts are in a place that’s very susceptible to secondary infection or they become very severe.
Be particularly watchful for the signs of infection in children’s warts so that any secondary infection can be treated as quickly as possible. This will minimize the chances of scarring or additional tissue damage.
Read here to learn more about the special concerns for warts on kids, how to treat them, and how to prevent them.
When to See a Doctor?
In truth, you should see your doctor at the first sign of infection. This is because some infections, though very rare, can move very fast. This is doubly true if you have a fever. A fever in conjunction with an infected wart is a sign that the infection is severe and systemic.
Having a doctor assess the severity of infection and prescribe the right treatment from the start will ensure that you can nip it in the bud before it has the chance to cause severe harm.
You can find further details of Types of warts here.