Warts and peace

An expert debunks the myths and shares smart advice about skin warts and the virus behind it. 



Long associated with touching toads or lizards, warts have been the bane of anyone valuing their unblemished epidermis. If located in the more visible parts of the body like the face, shoulder, or arms, they can affect the confidence and self-esteem of those who have them. But before blaming amphibians and reptiles, heed what dermatologist Lonabel Ancheta-Encarnacion, M.D., has to say:

“Warts are common skin problems caused by a DNA virus called the papilloma virus. It sits on the skin and produces this warty growth—rough bumps. It’s a viral infection,” explains Dr. Ancheta-Encarnacion, fellow of the Philippine Dermatological Society (FPDS) and chair of the Department of Dermatology in St. Luke’s Medical Center Quezon City.

“[Warts] can grow on the plantar area or feet, or on the thumb, or flat warts on the face. They can also grow in the mucous membranes of the genitals—also [caused by] papilloma virus. They belong to the same family of human papillomavirus (HPV),” Dr. Ancheta-Encarnacion explains.

Warts going on?

According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), warts have different types –each determined by where it grows on the body and what it looks like:

• Common warts (verruca vulgaris in Latin) appear as rough bumps on fingers and hands which reappear after treatment because of a phenomenon called micro-seeding. “That’s why it is recurrent. But blame it on the [HPV] virus being seeded in. They get into the skin,” Dr. Ancheta-Encarnacion explains.

• Foot or plantar warts grow on the foot or the sole, creating a painful pressure when walking. When plantar warts—or any other type—grow in clusters, they are called mosaic or confluence warts.

• Flat warts grow anywhere but are usually found on the face, legs, and the beard area in men. These are small and smooth, and according to the AAD, can grow in large numbers—20 to 100 at a time.

• Filiform warts resemble long threads, seemingly dangle, or appear as finger-like projections growing on facial areas such as the eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Periungual warts grow on the skin around the nail—and these are able to hide in the nail fold and proliferate undisturbed. “[Periungual warts] are very stubborn. They are infective tiny microorganisms that take over the mechanism of cells that are alive so they can proliferate or multiply,” says Dr. Ancheta-Encarnacion.

Warts can spread to other areas of the body—Dr. Ancheta-Encarnacion cites kissing warts, which may occur on fingers and toes. “Near-contact of these two areas of the skin will contaminate and transmit the warts [from one skin area] to the other.”

Tough to cure

For Dr. Ancheta-Encarnacion, a healthy immune system is the key to fighting warts. The mothers of her pediatric patients—mostly two- to four-year-olds—often ask for advice on how to deal with their kids’ warts. But the dermatologist doesn’t resort to over-the-counter (OTC) or medical treatments right away. Instead she tells her young patients to utter the affirmation “go away wart!”

For more on warts, including debunked myths and treatment advice, check out the August issue of HealthToday, available in major bookstores, newsstands and drugstores nationwide.

Warts and Peace
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