Warts are common, harmless skin growths caused by a virus. In children, 90 percent of all warts will disappear within 2 years.
Key points to remember
It is not essential to treat the warts, particularly if they are not causing any problems.
- warts (also called verrucas) are common, harmless skin growths caused by a virus
- warts can spread between people or on the same person
- in children, 90 percent of all warts will disappear within 2 years
- it is not essential to treat the warts, particularly if they are not causing any problems
What are they?
Warts are generally harmless skin growths. They can grow anywhere on the skin, most commonly on the hands, fingers, feet and face.
There are many different types of wart virus. Your child may become resistant (immune) to one type, but develop warts due to another type. The immunity is not life-long.
What causes them?
Warts are caused by a family of viruses called HPV (human papilloma virus). Once infected with the virus, it may take up to a year or more for the wart to become visible. They then grow very slowly over a period of months to years.
The Gardasil vaccine protects against some forms of wart virus and there are a few reports of warts clearing after receiving the vaccine. Gardasil is the name of the vaccine used in the New Zealand Immunisation Programme to protect against HPV infection (see human papillomavirus (HPV) immunisation).
How long could they last?
In children, even without treatment, 50 percent of warts disappear within 6 months and 90 percent are gone in 2 years (DermNet NZ).
How are they spread?
- warts can spread to other parts of your child's body when your child picks or scratches them
- warts can spread to other children who have direct contact with someone with warts
- your child can also get warts indirectly through swimming pools or public showers especially if they are barefoot and have scratches or cuts
What puts my child at risk of getting it?
Warts are very common, particularly in childhood. They affect around 1 in 10 children.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Warts can have many different appearances, from flat, shiny, long stalks, or large rough lumps (see the DermNet NZ website for pictures of warts).
What treatments are available?
It is not essential to treat your child's warts, particularly if they are not causing any problems. Treatment can be more uncomfortable than the warts themselves. No one treatment is guaranteed to work, and many require a few attempts.
However, warts often look ugly and can cause embarrassment. They can also be painful, particularly when they are on the feet or under nails.
A good approach at first is to keep the warts covered 24 hours a day. Duct tape is simple and cheap, and may help to prevent the warts spreading.
If you do want to treat your child's warts, the following treatments applied to the skin (topical treatments) are available.
Special ointments or wart paints
There are special ointments or wart paints that contain salicylic acid or lactic acid which are effective in 7 out of 10 children. These ointments/wart paints peel away the layers of infected skin. They can take up to 3 months to work.
You can buy some wart paints at pharmacies.
- Before using paints, it is important to prepare the skin by soaking the wart in warm-hot water for 10 minutes.
- After soaking the wart, pare it (rub with a pumice or stone or nail file).
- Then apply the paint to the wart, taking care to avoid the normal surrounding skin - you can use petroleum jelly, such as Vaseline, to protect the skin around the wart.
- Allow it to dry, and then cover with tape.
Liquid nitrogen freezing
Liquid nitrogen freezing is a common treatment that can be effective, but is painful. It usually needs to be repeated about every 4 weeks for several months.
For more information, see Dermnet NZ's viral warts fact sheet (scroll down to treatments).
When should I seek help?
See your family doctor if the warts, or their treatment, cause excessive pain.