The human papillomavirus (HPV) is able to cause a skin infection resulting in warts when it enters a cut in the skin and then causes cell growth. This leads the skin’s outer layer to turn thicker and harder, forming a raised wart. Warts usually spread quickly since the virus is very contagious. The virus spreads from one person to another or from one area of the body to another through:

  • Touching a wart directly
  • Touching a contaminated surface, such as a doorknob, clothes, or towel
  • Sexual activity (in the case of genital warts)
  • Nail biting
  • Shaving

Risk Factors For Developing Viral Warts

Viral warts are spread through direct contact with the virus. The following are some of the factors that may increase the chances of getting infected with the virus:

  • Younger age group

    Due to their immature immune systems, children and teenagers are affected more than adults. Eventually, as they grow older, their bodies will recognize the virus and try to fight it.

  • People who are immunocompromised

    People taking medications that suppress the immune system, organ transplant recipients, or those who have weak immune systems like cancer or AIDS patients, can develop warts easily.

  • Close proximity to people who have warts

    People with family members who have warts or schoolchildren with classmates who have warts have a high chance of getting warts too through direct contact or sharing of personal items.

  • People with skin conditions that can easily get wounds

    Skin diseases that cause dry skin that can easily crack like eczema have increased chances of having warts since open wounds make it easier for the virus to enter.

How Are Viral Warts Differentiated From Corns And Calluses?

Viral warts can be diagnosed by taking a close look at the lesion. They can usually be differentiated from corns and calluses by the following:

  • Presence of pinpoint red or black dots (papillary capillaries)
  • Location is not restricted to pressure sites
  • Tenderness is maximal with lateral pressure rather than direct pressure

Persistent Warts Affecting Your Quality Of Life?

Consult our MOH-accredited dermatologist for a detailed evaluation and personalised treatment plan.

When Should You Visit Your Doctor For Warts?

Schedule a visit to your doctor if your warts:

  • Breaks open frequently or bleed
  • Decreases your self-confidence
  • Are located in your genital area
  • Causes intense itch or pain
  • Appears red
  • Contains pus

Complications Of Viral Warts

Though viral warts are non-life threatening, they can sometimes cause complications depending on their severity and location.

  • Common and filiform warts

    If widespread or large, these types of warts can have a significant psychosocial impact due to embarrassment.

  • Periungual warts

    Warts located around the nails can cause nail dystrophy and destruction.

  • Plantar warts

    Plantar warts can be painful and thus can interfere with walking, eventually causing knee or hip pain.

Dr Noor Hanif Said

Medical Director & Consultant Dermatologist

Over 20 years of experience
in medical, Surgical & aesthetic Dermatology

  • Bachelor of Medicine, Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS, Singapore)
  • Membership of the Royal College of Physicians (MRCP, United Kingdom)
  • Fellow Of The Academy of Medicine, Singapore (FAMS, Dermatology)

Prior to starting his private practice at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre, Dr Hanif was a dermatologist at the National Skin Centre and a Visiting Consultant with the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital Dermatology Service.

Apart from his expertise in the management of general dermatological problems such as eczema, psoriasis, hair loss and acne, he has special interests in pigmentary disorders and aesthetic dermatology.

Treatment Of Viral Warts

Warts can clear up even without treating them. However, warts can spread quickly to other parts of the body, cause itchiness and pain, and affect your skin’s appearance, the following treatment options can be recommended to you by your doctor:

  • Over-the-counter (OTC) wart removal medications

    These have salicylic acid as their ingredient. It dissolves warts one layer at a time thus you need to apply this daily for several months to get rid of the wart.

  • Freezing

    Called cryotherapy, this procedure uses liquid nitrogen to freeze the wart. A blister would then form and peel off. This may take several sessions.

  • Immunotherapy

    Immunotherapy helps your immune system fight the virus. This process involves a topical chemical, such as diphencyprone (DCP), and is usually used for stubborn warts.

  • Laser treatment

    Laser light is used to destroy the tiny blood vessels inside the wart, cutting off its blood supply and eventually killing it.

  • Cantharidin

    Cantharidin, a liquid chemical, is applied to the wart. A blister forms and cuts off its blood supply. You must then follow up after a week to remove the dead wart.

  • Electrosurgery and curettage

    Electrosurgery involves burning. Curettage uses a sharp knife or small, spoon-shaped tool to scrape off the wart. These two procedures often are used together.

  • Excision

    A scalpel cuts through a raised lesion, across the skin, to remove it.

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    Frequently Asked Questions

    How can I prevent viral warts infection and spread?
    • Clean and cover cuts and scrapes immediately.
    • Always observe good and proper hand hygiene.
    • Moisturize your skin daily, especially if you have dry skin.
    • Avoid scratching, cutting, and picking at your warts.
    • Wear slippers in public showers, locker rooms, and pool areas.
    • Never touch someone’s wart.
    • Do not use an infected person’s personal items.
    • Keep feet dry because moisture allows plantar warts to spread.
    • Avoid shaving over or close to a wart.
    • Stop the habit of biting your nails or picking at your cuticles.
    • Get the HPV vaccine when able
    • Use condoms during sexual intercourse.
    Can warts return?

    Yes, they can. Unfortunately, once you have the virus, there’s no sure way to prevent them from coming back. Even after treatment, warts can reappear at the same location or in a different part of the body. However, for some people, after they get rid of warts, they never have one again.