Harvard Men's Health Watch

Worried about warts?

Warts are extremely common. Most are small and painless. Many will resolve on their own. All are benign. But that doesn't mean warts are trivial. In fact, many are unsightly, some do cause pain, and patients with weakened immune systems can have major problems with warts. However, the most common symptom of all is worry, with embarrassment a close second; both are best treated with a simple dose of information.

What are warts?

A wart is a skin infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV affects only humans; it spreads from person to person by direct contact. With the important exception of the strains that are sexually transmitted (see box), HPV is not very contagious. Most people with warts don't remember coming into contact with another case, possibly because it takes so long for a wart to develop after infection occurs. Still, it's likely that most warts develop after HPV enters the body through a minute break in the skin.

There are over 100 strains of HPV. About 40 can be transmitted sexually; the others cause ordinary skin warts, which are known in medical terms as verrucae.

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