What are warts?
Warts are the result of infection in the keratin producing cells of the skin. The human papilloma virus, the virus which causes warts, is a small collection of DNA that can only be seen with an electron microscope. It has the ability to remain dormant for long periods of time. When the environmental conditions are right, the virus multiplies in the nucleus of its host cell, causing a warty-like tumor which is visible to the naked eye. More than ninety different variations of the wart virus have been identified to date. Each one is a little different. Depending on where the infected cells are growing, these viruses can produce tumors (warts) with many clinically different appearances.
Since warts are not easily identified by their specific genotypes, they are usually grouped by three methods: clinical similarities, anatomical location, or method of transmission. Some examples include:
- Flat warts, filiform warts or thread warts
- Verruca vulgaris (the common wart)
- Plantar warts (occurring on the bottom or plantar surface of the foot)
- Periungual warts (occurring around the nails)
- Mucosal warts (occurring of a mucosal membrane)
- Venereal warts (sexually transmitted warts)
Why do people get warts?
Our immune system normally protects us from viruses. However, the wart virus does not enter the bloodstream and is not exposed to the neutralizing benefits of the body’s circulating antibodies. As a result, we must depend on local tissue immune responses to deal with the wart viruses.
The immune systems of children, adolescents, organ transplant patients and patients who have medical conditions such as leukemia, lymphoma, and AIDS can be slow to activate an immune response to eliminate the virus. Consequently, these people tend to have more warts than others.
What do warts look like?
Let’s look at some examples of warts.
How can warts be treated?
The key to successful wart therapy lies in activating your local immune system to recognize the presence of the virus. Once activated, your body can respond and destroy the wart virus. At least thirty different forms of therapy are currently available, but none of them are uniformly effective or suitable for everyone. The course of therapy selected by the provider is often determined according to the location of the warts, the number of warts present, the age of the patient, and the patient’s perceived pain tolerance. Previous unsuccessful therapies, parental preferences, patient’s availability, cost, insurance coverage and personal convenience can all be taken into consideration as well. The general rule is to never make the treatment worse than the disease.