Are you frustrated by warts, whether it’s a first time break out or your 15th recurrence? If you have ever wondered are warts contagious and what actually causes those bumpy growths on our skin, you’ve come to the right place. For such a common skin condition, there’s plenty of misinformation to go around. This article will set the record straight on warts, so that you know how best to treat them and how to keep from giving them to others. You will also learn a bit about maintaining a healthy immune system so you don’t have to worry as much about catching them in the first place.
Table of Contents
Warts are quite contagious
So contagious in fact, that roughly 70% of the population has contracted them in some form or another. We can get them from touching someone else’s wart, or from simply touching a surface that they touched. There’s a little more to the process, depending on how healthy your immune system is, the type of infection and where it is located. To learn more about what causes warts, you can read here.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should run screaming every time we see one. All that’s really necessary is to take precautions. This is because even though they are quite contagious, we have to have a few weaknesses in our own skin to catch them as well. If you simply touched a wart with healthy, unbroken skin, and then carefully washed your hands before touching any other part of your body, you’d be very unlikely to catch them yourself.
The pathogen that causes warts enters through a break in the skin such as:
- a cut,
- a scrape,
- a burn,
- an irritated spot where one was picking or biting at their nails (very common),
- a blister, or
- a sunburn.
Therefore, all of these skin conditions should be cleaned and treated carefully until they fully heal because you never know when you might be coming into contact with this particular pathogen.
Warts are also a bit easier to contract through contact with our tender mucous membranes, such as the eyes, mouth or genitals. This is one of the reasons that genital warts are such a common disorder. As a matter of fact, roughly 14 million people contract genital warts every single year. These are the ones you want to watch out for because while genital warts are benign in and of themselves, they can cause changes in the skin called dysplasia. This dysplasia can most definitely develop into cancer and should be treated promptly.
One of the reasons genital warts are such a common infection is that the act of their transmission involves friction on tender tissues. Even using condoms cannot completely protect against their transmission as they do not cover all of the affected areas. Therefore, even more caution should be used regarding this particular wart type than others. Complete abstinence is a good idea until your doctor is 100% certain the infection is cleared. After that, use condoms. There are also vaccines that help to prevent some forms of warts, but they don’t protect against all forms.
Are They a Virus?
Yes, warts are caused by a virus. The warts themselves are not a virus. They are a symptom of the virus that is already in your tissues. Once you catch the virus, you have it forever, so even after you’ve gotten rid of your current wart, it may come back. They are benign growths – meaning that they aren’t cancerous growths – caused by the virus’s tendency to make skin grow and replicate faster than it should.
The virus that causes warts is called HPV – human papillomavirus. It’s just about as common as the common cold, and comes in many different kinds. So far, we have managed to categorize over 100 different types of HPV. About 60 of these types affect the type of skin that we have on our hands and feet, chest, limbs and faces. The other 40 some odd types are generally sexually transmitted and affect the type of skin that covers our mucous membranes like our mouths and genital areas.
Some of these strains that affect mucous membranes carry more risk of causing cancer than others. For instance, HPV types 6 and 11 are almost never capable of creating cancerous dysplasia. Since they are responsible for about 90% of all genital warts cases, this is a very comforting fact. On the other hand, types 16 and 18 are very serious as they cause roughly 70% of all reported cases of cervical cancer.
The other 30% of cervical cancers are usually attributed to types:
- 52, and
So, as you can see, it’s very good to know which type of HPV you are infected with so that you can take the appropriate precautions. This may include special medicines to suppress the virus and more frequent pap smears. While different types of HPV tend to affect different areas of the body, any type can spread to any other area given the right conditions. This includes infecting cuts or abrasions and failing to clean them off, so one can’t assume that it is a certain type of HPV based on the area that it’s infecting alone.
Can Warts Be Contagious By Touch?
Absolutely, but not easily. That is, if you already have a break on your skin (like what is listed above), or fail to wash your hands before touching a mucous membrane, it’s possible. Of course as stated above, this is not the easiest way to catch warts since you have to have a point of entry and most people wash their hands frequently enough to prevent it.
Still, touch is exactly how you contract the HPV virus. You touch the virus or a surface that is contaminated by the virus, and it settles in to plague you with bumpy growths.
Here’s how you can avoid contracting warts by touch:
- Keep your skin in tact.
- Cover open wounds.
- Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly.
- If you hands are chapped and dry, use lotion to heal them and wear gloves to protect them from cold.
- Don’t bite your nails.
- Don’t touch your body without washing first if you have a wart, and keep the wart covered.
This last is true because you don’t just spread warts to others, but can spread your wart to other parts of your body as well. This article will explain more about how warts spread.
Are Common Warts Contagious?
Yes, common warts are contagious too. This is because, like all other warts, they are caused by the HPV virus. In fact, if your common warts are on your hands, they may be a little more contagious because you are touching surfaces with infected skin. This is why it’s a great idea to keep your warts covered while treating them.
If your common warts are elsewhere on your body, simply don’t touch them.
This will cut down dramatically on transmission of the virus. When you are treating the wart:
- apply the treatment,
- cover the wart,
- and then wash your hands before going about your daily activity.
Don’t pick at it ever. Remember, it’s hard to give the virus to someone else unless they have breaks in their skin too.
If you are helping someone else to apply treatment to a common wart, whether your skin is fully intact or not, it’s a good idea to wear gloves because you might miss a break in your skin. Even a small opening from a hangnail can provide a point of entry. But this should never be a reason to avoid helping a loved one apply simple over the counter medication as it’s so easy to avoid transmission with good hygiene and a pair of gloves.
Here’s a few things you definitely should not do:
- Don’t use your personal hygiene products, such as nail clippers or files, to help file down a wart. Any products used for this purpose should be used by only one person and immediately disposed of after treatment.
- Don’t ever share makeup products, nail polish or other personal care products. This is a common mode of transmission.
- Don’t share gloves, flip-flops or shoes.
Common warts don’t generally spread to the genital regions, as the top surface of the wart if fully keratinized (this also makes them harder to spread to others). However, common warts caused by HPV 2 can cause oral and genital warts as well. In fact, it has even been spread by caregivers changing diapers in some cases. This is why using gloves for this task is a very good idea.
I Have Warts on Hands. Are They Contagious?
Yes. Warts on hands are contagious. In some cases, a little more so because we touch so many things with our hands. Again, this is why it’s a good idea to cover up the wart while you are treating it. You can get rid of a wart in as little as two weeks using home treatments or with treatment at a physician’s office, so it shouldn’t interfere with your life for very long. In the mean time, avoid shaking hands because you don’t know for sure if the other person has broken skin or chapped hands and it would be a shame to share your warts in this way. Once the wart is completely gone, there’s almost zero chance of you spreading it because your intact skin won’t be shedding enough of the virus, even if it does still contain it deep in your tissues.
If you are concerned about catching warts from others, you can help prevent this problem by maintaining a healthy immune system.
Make sure you eat a balanced diet, get plenty of sleep, and keep your skin healthy and you should be fine. Also, if you have warts on your hands, you may have wondered, can you get warts from frogs? This is patently untrue. HPV is a human virus and frogs don’t carry it. To learn more about where the myth of warts and frogs came from, you can read this article.
Sometimes it’s hard to get all of the vitamins and minerals that your immune system needs to remain healthy, even if you eat a very balanced diet. Taking a daily multivitamin supplement that contains B-complex, vitamins A, C, E and K and all of the trace minerals you need might give your immune system the added boost that it needs to fight off common infections.
What About Flat Warts?
Yes. Flat warts, otherwise known as verruca plana, are contagious too. They are caused most commonly by HPV viruses 3, 10 and rarely HPV 2. As stated above, HPV 2 can spread to other areas a bit more easily, so flat warts should be treated with caution until they are fully cleared.
It’s very important not to overreact to the presence of warts. Just because they are contagious does not mean they are very easy to catch. Again, in order to contract the virus, you must have a break in your skin, then expose that break to the virus, and your immune system must fail to kill the virus once it enters the skin.
Considering how difficult it is to contract under casual circumstances, it’s surprising that so many people are infected with the HPV virus. Simply follow the tips listed above, and you should significantly reduce your chances of being pestered by this pesky virus.
You can find further details of Warts here.