Human papillomavirus is one of the causes of verruca vulgaris—common warts that are spread through surface contact. Molluscum contagiosum is a less common viral infection—caused by skin-on-skin contact with others—that appears on the hands and feet, other exposed areas, and the genital area. Swimmers and people who are immunocompromised are more susceptible to widespread warts on the body.
Warts can be harmful in two types of circumstances. People with immune deficiencies may have warts all over the body. Some people also experience chronic warts on the hands and feet that can lead to cancer, but this is very unusual. When molluscum causes the warts, they appear where skin has contacted warts on another person or where a person has been scratching. Warts are usually spread through lacerations or disruptions in the skin; be aware of these areas and avoid contact.
You can treat warts at home with salicylic-acid plasters, solutions, and releasing gels. Vitamins and minerals that strengthen the immune system can also assist in wart prevention. The type of vitamins and supplements I recommend depends on the case. Vitamin A can be effective, but excessive use (50,000 IU daily for months) can cause side effects, including headaches, blurry vision, bone aches, and fatigue, particularly in pregnant women. Recommended dose is 5,000 IU per day.
–Alan Dattner, MD, founder of Holistic Dermatology, New Rochelle, New York
Warts occur in children primarily on the fingers and soles of the feet. Most warts are spread through breaks in the skin because the skin acts as a barrier, and breaks in the skin are an invitation for bacterial and viral particles to get in and set up shop.
In most cases, warts will go away on their own, but it may take months. Patience is the single most important “treatment.” Parents and children should not pick at or shave off the wart, which renders it more susceptible to infection. Generally, I recommend leaving the wart alone and letting it run its course. Exceptions to this are painful warts on the soles of the feet, which can affect the child’s gait. In this case, there are several different treatments. The one that I recommend is cryotherapy, or freezing the wart with liquid nitrogen. Cauterization, or burning the wart, is another treatment.
While there is no way to prevent warts, you can avoid the spread of them by not picking at them and by wearing flip-flops in public or shared showers.
–Charlotte Cowan, MD, Pediatrician at Massachusetts General Hospital, author of the Dr. Hippo children’s book series; drhippo.com
Warts are viral, so they tend to pop up when we are stressed, as a cold sore might, but they are much harder to get rid of. Garlic is a classic herbal remedy: Put a small piece of fresh garlic on the wart and secure it there with a bandage. Do this daily and follow through until the wart is gone, which can take up to several months.
I also recommend using greater celandine, a member of the Ranunculacae family that is used as a topical treatment for certain skin conditions. It can take up to three months to get rid of a wart that’s been there for a while, but daily or twice per day applications of a drop of the tincture to the wart can be very successful. Pregnant women should avoid use. The earlier you start treatment after noticing a wart, the faster it will work, but it can still be effective when the wart has been there for a longer time.
For wart prevention, reduce stress, clean up the diet, and strengthen the immune system by avoiding sugar and wheat. Nettle tea (an infusion) is the least expensive way to boost the immune system. The tea is made from nettle leaves and is high in vitamins A, B, D, and K, iron, carotene, magnesium, chromium, potassium, and zinc.
–Susan Mead, MH, Fort Collins, Colorado; susanemead.com