By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Verrucas or plantar warts are small rough lumps that are formed over the pressure points of the soles of the feet. These commonly occur in the heels or balls of the feet. The causative organism of these warts is Human Papilloma virus (HPV) strains 1, 2 and sometimes 4.
This condition is highly contagious and spreads from person to person by skin to skin contact or by sharing communal baths, towels, socks or shoes.
Although half of the verrucae disappear without treatment in a year and around two thirds within two years, some may persist and may resist therapy.
Warts in older persons tend to last longer than those in the young. In these individuals the warts may lead to pain, difficulty in bearing weight over the affected foot and also difficult walking.
Recurrence is also cumbersome and occurs in those with a suppressed immunity like in diabetics, those with AIDS, leukaemia, lymphomas or those who have had an organ transplant (e.g. Kidney transplant). 1-6
How can verrucas be prevented?
Some simple steps to help prevent verrucas include:
Warts in other persons should not be touched with bare hands.
Towels, shoes, socks or other items of personal use should not be shared with someone who has a wart.
Those who have a verruca or a wart should not scratch or pick at their warts since this helps in spread of the HPV to other parts of the body like fingers, fingernails etc.
Shaving over and around the warts also spreads the virus and is a cause for re-infections as well.
Those with verrucae are advised never to cut off or burn off their warts as this may result in injury, risk of infections and also risk spread of the HPV to other parts of the body.
Wet feet and those with ulcers of skin breaks or abrasions over the feet are more at risk of getting HPV and verrucae. Feet should be kept dry and socks should be changed every day to prevent warts.
In addition, all skin breaks and ulcers should be promptly treated and covered with plaster and tapes and shoes should be worn to prevent infections.
Persons with warts need to wear flip flops or slipper around pools, swimming pool changing rooms and community showers to prevent spread of infection
Special verruca socks are available at pharmacies. These, or special waterproof plasters, should be worn over the warts before undertaking communal activities like swimming or physical education at school. Swimming should not be discouraged in children with verrucae as learning to swim may help prevent drowning and save lives.
Children’s feet should be examined periodically for signs of warts. New verrucae should be treated as quickly as possible so that they do not spread to other parts or other individuals.
Reviewed by April Cashin-Garbutt, BA Hons (Cantab)
Last Updated: Sep 4, 2012